On the Job

A lobsterman in Maine talks about the lure of working on the water

(Cheryl Carlin)

(Continued from page 1)

Have you ever been injured by a lobster?
Oh yeah. There isn't a fisherman here who can say he hasn't been. A lot of times, you'll see this nice big lobster in the corner of the trap. You reach across, and they're might be a small lobster that'll latch on. The claw pulses when it has you. The minute you feel them slapping, you pull your finger out. I've seen some lobstermen throw that lobster the length of the boat. Temper. But what good is that going to do? You'll never catch that lobster.

Lobstermen and others on the island seem to live long lives, commonly into their 90s. Why do you think that is?
It's the way we eat. We eat a lot of fish, a lot of sea products. And the beef we get here is pretty decent; it's Maine-grown. And we work in the air. It's the quality of the air here.

Can you tell us about your efforts to change the management of other fisheries, such as cod, that are severely depleted?
I'm doing it for the younger fishermen, for my son and grandson, so that they will have an alternative fishery. In my opinion, there are no better stewards for the fishing industry than the fishermen. Technology is going to be the ruination of fishing. The fish mentality hasn't changed. They haven't grown smarter. We're working to protect a more traditional fishing—hook fishing. We want to close an area off to the big boats. You need an area where the fish have spawning grounds, where the fish are going to return. We just want inland [25 miles from shore]. We're saying to the government, let us build an industry.

Any advice for someone who wants to be a lobsterman?
A young person just starting out should definitely learn from and respect the older fishermen. There are some out there who are 75 years old. The best thing I could tell them is to be patient. A new fisherman is going to lose at least a third of his gear the first year. [Other fishermen] are going to cut him off. They're going to set boundaries. He has to prove to them that he's capable of being a clean fisherman. And you've got to be willing to work 16 hours a day, because you're not only going to haul, you're repairing gear, you're cutting rope, you're getting ready for the next day. The life of a fisherman is his life. There is no other life.

Are there any women lobstermen?
Oh yes. It's the same life for them. Most of their husbands are fishermen too. A lot of the women on this island have a [lobstering] license. They're just as good as the men, probably better. They go at it harder.

Do you eat lobster? No, I don't like it. But my wife loves it, so I cook it for her.

Siobhan Roth is a regular contributor to Smithsonian.com

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