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Heading out of Ottawa to Halifax for lobster fishing in yarmouth

My experience on a lobster fishing boat in Nova Scotia

Mark Robinson

Monday, December 7, 2015, 3:51 PM - Walking down a pier in Yarmouth, N.S. at 4:30 in the morning towards a lobster boat is an exercise in feeling totally out of place, especially if you’ve lived your entire life in the concrete canyons of Toronto, like I have.

Nathan Coleman and I were heading aboard the Mister Mariner with Chuck Cosman at the helm, an experienced captain and fisherman. He’d agreed to let us see exactly what the crew goes through fishing for lobster. Since I had no idea how it all worked, this was going to be an education for me.

The first step is just getting out to the fishing grounds. Chuck had his areas already picked out and all we had to do was drive out there, dump the lobster pots and wait. Lobsters favour a narrow band of temperature and if the water was too warm, they’d move on. If it's too cold and they’d dig into the bottom and hibernate. That’s why the first three weeks of lobster fishing season is so critical: Between 80 and 90 percent of the money is made in that time period, when the lobsters are the most active. That means you go out rain or shine.

And rain on the Atlantic Ocean in late fall means major storms.

Waves over 8 metres can accompany these systems along with gale force winds and driving snow and rain, making an already difficult job nearly impossible. Missing even one day in the first three weeks can make or break a season for a fishing crew so it’s an all-out effort to be out on the water as much as possible.

Given the huge sums of money involved with running and maintaining a lobster boat (think high 6-figures for some), the stakes are incredibly high. Even when you’re back to land, there are even more uncontrollable factors, like the marketplace.

Getting a good price-per-lb is critical and that depends on what boils down to supply and demand.

Dangers on board add to the stress.

In order to get the lobster pots to sink to the bottom, a huge amount of rope (at least 100 m) attached to 30-40 lbs of iron anchor, buoys, and floaters needs to be pitched off the boat for every 10-15 pots.

On the first day, there are 375 pots aboard and every one of them needs to get into place. Once they’re all down, the job gets slightly easier, but not by much. I watched from the safety of the upper deck as the pots flew off the back of the boat, each one of them crashing into the churning water to be followed by a second anchor that would help keep them in place during the winter storms that regularly swept over the area. 

As I watched, the crew tied each pot onto the main line, ensured the anchors were in place and tied on the buoy/floater. That meant that ropes were flying, people were moving, and pots were being slammed around. The potential for ropes entangling feet or pots falling on hands was high and yet, not one accident happened. 

All the work was done in cold, wet, and sometimes, icy conditions. It was exhausting and tough and the conditions were utterly dangerous. And yet, when I talked to the guys in the safe environment of the warm cabin, they told me that they didn’t see it as dangerous at all. It was a job that needed to get done and they loved being out on the water, away from the world of cubicles and computers that so many of us inhabit. To them, being out on the ocean was a part of who they were, a part of a special community on the shores of Nova Scotia.

I’d gotten a brief glimpse into that community and the work that gets done and how difficult it really is to get that steaming lobster from 100 m below the dark waves to your plate.

I will never again complain about the price I have to pay for my lobster meal.

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