What lobsters?

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I have previously written a tale or two about Anderson MacLean from River John and his ways of life as a fisherman on Pictou Island. I thank those of you who have shared your accounts of past events thus allowing me to share them with others. One such recollection that was passed onto me concerning Anderson MacLean is truly fascinating and must be shared. The following episode occurred many years ago at Pictou Island’s East End Breakwater.

It was a common practice 40-lus years ago for people to have a few lobster traps set around the local waters after the lobster season. A feed of fresh lobsters was appreciated just about any time that one could be acquired. Speaking from experience, a few old wooden lobster traps would be set in shallow water with a trap lath or plastic bottle used as a marker. Fishery officers would often patrol the waters in search of such illegal traps in their boat that was locally known as the cutter. This grey boat was loud and slow and usually could be seen coming from a mile or two away. If it found illegal lobster traps in the water while on patrol, the officers would haul the traps, release the fish back into the water and cut the traps to pieces. I guess that was how it got to be called the cutter.

This vessel would make patrols and many times would dock for hours at the Pictou Island wharf or East End Breakwater. If other fishing boats or speedboats should arrive at these locations and lobster poaching was suspected, the fishery officers could check that boat. It was very rare for anyone to ever be apprehended, as this cutter was very noticeable.

I was recently informed about this one fine September day when Anderson was sailing over to Pictou Island from Caribou. The regular spring lobster season had ended two months prior and Anderson was making a trip on that day to check on his trap house at the East End. He was cruising close to the island shore when he spotted a Javex bottle bobbing on the water. I find it ironic that he knew where the bottle was but regardless, his curiosity got the better of him and he pulled up beside it and sure enough, it was attached to a lobster trap. Naturally Anderson hauled it in and bingo, there were two large market lobsters inside.

Anderson quickly scanned the area for the cutter and it wasn’t seen. Images of supper flashed in his mind as he sailed into the breakwater and anchored his boat. Unknown to Anderson, the cutter had docked earlier that morning at the island wharf and an officer had driven to the East End Breakwater. Anderson reached the shore in his dory with the two big lobsters in a bucket beside him. He drags his dory up on the sand only to be met by the fishery officer.

What’s in the bucket Mr. MacLean, asks the officer? Now Anderson being very witty answers back, why that’s Bert and Ernie in the bucket. Bert and Ernie looks like a couple of lobsters to me responded the officer. Anderson still not wanting to be had replies, why Bert and Ernie are my two pet lobsters and I take them for a sail and a swim every day. Anderson goes on to say that he caught Bert and Ernie during the spring lobster season and trained them to respond to his whistle. Every day says Anderson, I go down to the water’s edge and place Bert and Ernie into the water just so that they can refresh themselves. About 10 minutes later I whistle for them and back they come.

Now the fishery officer was really amazed with what Anderson was saying but didn’t know whether to believe him or not. Here Anderson says. Let me show you what I mean. With that, Anderson picks up the bucket containing the two lobsters and he and the officer stroll down to the water’s edge. Amazing says the officer, I’ve gotta see this! With that Anderson places the two lobsters side by side into the water and sets his watch for 10 minutes. The fishery officer is astonished that two lobsters can be trained in this way. The officer is anxiously waiting for the time to elapse when he says to Anderson, Okay, whistle and bring the lobsters back. Anderson looks at him in a weird way, raises an eyebrow and replies, WHAT LOBSTERS?

I am also reminded again of those years ago when Wayne MacKinnon fished lobsters with Cecil Rankin from the East End. Wayne being a young teenager at that time was not an early riser. Wayne had a hard time going to bed after midnight and getting up early that same morning to go fishing. Cecil would have a difficult time getting him out of his bunk at four o’clock in the morning. Anderson and Cecil’s fishing shanties were side by side and Anderson could hear the commotion that Cecil was having every morning. One particular morning, Anderson had enough. He went down to the waters edge and got a bucket of cold salt water, opened Cecil’s shanty door and threw it on Wayne as he slept. Wayne was out of his bunk that morning even before his eyes were open. Now however, it meant payback. Wayne knew the path that Anderson would follow from his shanty to the shore the next morning. He silently slipped out that evening and tied a string across the path about six inches off the ground. Sure enough, next morning just prior to daylight, Anderson dressed in oilskins, souwester and rubber boots made his way down the path to the shore with his hands full of gas cans, water jug and lunch can. He hits the string and tumbles down the bank like a bull elephant crashing through the woods. The gas cans, water jug and lunch can all going in different directions. I am told that upon realizing what had happened, he went from being an elephant to a grizzly bear.

Wayne assured me that he slept every night after that with one eye open.

Anderson MacLean has fished the waters of the Northumberland Strait for well over sixty years. There is not much that this knowledgeable Grand Marshall of the annual Pictou Lobster Carnival has not experienced nor seen in the fishing industry.