Caught … in a trap

Arts & Entertainment Pictou Island Memories

My memory has me recalling those times when I, as a small boy, would sail to and from my home on Pictou Island with my parents.

During those earlier years, my father had the 30-foot boat named Slo-Mo-Shun which he had built himself in 1951. This sleek boat powered by a 289 cubic inch V-8 Ford was completely open and just about everything around you could easily be observed while sailing on the water. I bring to mind when we would be sailing from Pictou Island to Pictou on clear calm days after lobster season had ended each year. We would often observe pieces of trap lath floating on the water as we sailed along. If we sailed close enough to these pieces of lath, we could often observe a piece of string extending downwards towards the bottom where a lobster trap or traps would be attached. Fishing lobsters out of season during those years was a common practice and very seldom anyone would be caught. However, there were fishery officers who did patrol the waters for illegal fishing during those years. The boat they used was noisy and did not go very fast. We knew that boat as, “The Cutter”. It was a slow grey boat and one could easily detect it before being caught hauling lobster traps out of season. There was, however, a speedboat on the stern of this cutter that could be used to catch up with another boat quickly. The fear was always there that someday you would be caught hauling traps out off-season.

I reflect back in time to the fall off 1958 when the inside wharf area at Pictou Island was being dredged. The workers on the dredge had a dory that they used to set lobster traps with just east of the wooden wharf. It was common to have a meal of lobster every day if desired. It was fall season and there were no strong tides. I was eight years old and I would often take their dory and check the traps for them. I really enjoyed doing that; after all, I was the son off a fisherman.

I clearly remember one clear calm, sunny afternoon when I had rowed over to where the traps were set. The area was about a hundred yards east of the wooden wharf  below where Katie and Edward Rankin lived. I remember hauling the three traps that were on the line and I probably had five or six big market lobsters in the bottom of the dory. Suddenly I heard a motor off in the distance and I looked out over the water to see a speedboat racing in my direction.

My God, I said, here comes the cutter’s speedboat. I sat down in the seat and I strained against those oars for all I was worth trying to make it back to the wharf. At the same time I tried to get rid of the evidence by grabbing the lobsters and dropping them overboard. I just made it back to the wharf when the speedboat caught up with me. Three guys all waving beer bottles yelled. ‘Hey buddy, want to sell us some lobsters/’

Well, all that remained in the dory was a wet spot where the lobsters had been. I think I aged 50 years in those few minutes while trying to escape my possible capture.

I bring to mind another way I had of catching lobster. There is a reef projecting out from the shore below where our home used to be. I would take an old lobster trap and bait it with a rock crab that I would find under a rock along the water’s edge. I would walk out to the end of this reef at low tide and throw the trap off into deeper water. I would then tie the rope from the trap to a rock. On the next low tide I could haul the trap back onto the reef. Yes, I did catch quite a few lobsters this way and I didn’t worry about any speedboat catching up with me on this reef.

There was no lobster trap limit prior to the early 1960s and some fishermen fished over 1,200 lobster traps. That would make a long day on the water. My father fished 450-500 traps and landed approximately 11,000 pounds of lobster in 1957, 14,600 pounds in 1959 and 16,700 pounds in 1960. Many other fishermen, however, were not as fortunate and lobster stocks were thought to be declining. A 750-trap limit was first imposed during the early 1960s. Dad landed the most poundage to Maritime Packers at the West End of Pictou Island in 1968. His catch that year was 11,134 pounds and for being high boat, he received a cheque from MP for $50.

Lobster trap limits have continued to decline since the 1960s and is presently set at 250 traps per fisherman. Many fishermen today claim to average lobster catches even better then was done 40 years ago when 1,200 traps were fished. If this is fact, then conservation regulations are definitely working.