|lobster buoys on a calm morning|
That's most years.
This year, buoys are scarce in the shallow waters near Hockomock Point. Early mornings are quiet. Even the gulls hush their raucous cries without the attraction of stinky bait being scooped into nets and tied into lobster traps. And this is in a year when a glut of lobsters has driven prices paid to lobstermen down to a forty-year low. What's going on?
|eggs on the tail of a female lobster|
Any egger--a female with 10,000 eggs clinging to her tail--must not only be thrown back, but her tail must be notched so that every fisherman forever knows that as a breeding female, she's off limits.
Another factor in the recent rise in lobster catches may be the decline in the population of groundfish, the major predators of young post-larval lobsters. Only now, after years of vigorous management, is the population of cod beginning to rebound. As for how cod affect young lobsters, I can vouch for that: this weekend we landed four cod, more than in decades, and three of the four had young, three-inch lobsters in their throats.
But why the special glut this year? The reason seems to be an especially warm winter. One effect was an earlier and more productive lobster fishing season in the Canadian part of the Gulf of Maine. Coupled with that, plentiful shedders or soft-shell lobsters, those that come closer inshore to molt, arrived in Maine waters about six weeks earlier than usual, at a time when the Canadian processing plants, which take about 50% of Maine lobsters, were still full with the large Canadian take. Soft shell lobsters, which are the usual summer variety, are difficult to ship long distances in the shell, so the local market is full, and lobstermen are getting only around $2 per pound.
Why then, are lobster boats so scarce in Muscongus Sound? I can offer a couple of hypotheses. One reason may be an unofficial lobster strike. Up and down the coast, lobstermen have organized hasty protests by staying in, not going fishing, in hopes that prices will go up. It hasn't worked yet.
The problem with this hypothesis is that none of the lobster strikes have lasted more than a week. Besides, in the next bay east, or farther out in deeper water, pot buoys are still numerous.
|idle lobster traps with growing weeds|
So maybe the same warm waters that brought the lobsters in to shed early has now driven them farther north and east to escape waters that have become unseasonably warm. Meanwhile, another lobster season is about to open in New Brunswick, and the Canadian lobstermen are already grumbling about the glut of Maine lobster driving down the market.
At a time when it's hard to keep up with what fish it's "green" to eat, which species are well-managed and which are in decline, it's good to know that this summer, at least, eating lobster as fast as we can may be a patriotic act.