The Lobster’s Tale: By means of the Eyes of a Cape Cod Lobsterman?


As soon as upon a time if Cape Codders needed a grand lobster feast they merely walked
down to the shore, waded in and plucked all they could have by the armload. In
reality, the Pilgrim Miles Standish reported that, following a fantastic nor’easter, lobsters could
be uncovered in piles eighteen inches deep at the water’s edge and collected without
any one even obtaining their toes damp.

Homarus Americanus, alternatively acknowledged as the New England, Maine, or Atlantic
lobster, the moment thrived in these profundity in this article on Cape Cod that the colonists basically
utilized them, not as foodstuff, but as fertilizer for their crops or as bait for their fish
hooks. As sustenance, lobster was minor far more than “poverty food items,” healthy only for
feeding indentured servants, slaves, small children or cows, in that purchase. Below in
Massachusetts, the servants did lastly rebel and received an modification to their
contracts- No more time would they be compelled to eat lobster a lot more than three occasions a
7 days.

Now of course, the lobster ranks as the king of all summer season foodstuff, more a
celebration than a food. For lobster-enthusiasts a lazy summertime day baking at the seaside
is just prelude to the height of indulgence- tying on the lobster bib, unwrapping
the exclusive forks, picks, and claw-cracker, and consulting the location mat with its
quantities outlining, stage-by-move, how to dismember your lobster to extract its entire

We New Englanders so love the lobster that Logan Airport has its personal lobster pool,
whose feisty inhabitants wait to be shipped to all details of the globe by air categorical.
It was not generally so. In reality there is tiny about the record of this pugnacious
crustacean that would forecast its exclusive increase to acceptance in the American diet regime

The Historical past
On a journey to the Cape guided by Squanto on September 18, 1621, Miles Standish
was struck by the omnipresent hordes of lobsters. He found “savages searching for
lobsters” in Barnstable, and, at daybreak the subsequent morning in Nauset Harbor, he
moved to purchase some of his have:

“There we located several lobsters that had been gathered jointly by the savages,
which we made ready less than a cliff. The captain set two sentinels powering the cliff to
the landward to secure the shallop, and using a guidebook with him and four of our
company, went to search for the inhabitants the place they met a lady coming for her
lobsters, they instructed her of them, and contented her for them.”

The probable for the creature in the American food plan was noted not only listed here on Cape
Cod, of training course, but all along the New England coastline. In June 1605 Captain George
Waymouth, on a excursion to Maine, was also struck by the teeming populations of
American Lobster, a shut cousin to the scaled-down Spiny lobster of Europe:

“And toward evening we drew with a small web of 20 fathoms pretty nigh the shore
we bought about 30 incredibly great and great lobsters… which I omit not to report,
for the reason that it sheweth how excellent a income the fishing would be.”

Nevertheless, lobstering as an sector began, not in Maine, but appropriate listed here on Cape
Cod. Populations have been so higher that the standard lobster went for a mere two or 3
cents each and every. In point, lobstermen on Monomoy’s Whitewash Village are reported to have
designed a first rate residing at a penny apiece. The crustaceans grew to this sort of measurement that they
had been generally described up to 5 and 6 ft very long in the markets of Boston. 1
gargantua reached a fat of nearly forty-five pounds.

Unlike other forms of fish, lobster need to be transported alive. Raw useless lobsters
establish toxic harmful toxins that will sicken or perhaps get rid of anybody who eats them.
Therefore the lobster sector, as we know it now, did not turn into possible until
the early nineteenth century with the advancement of lobster smacks, sailing vessels
with seawater tanks in their keep. By 1840 Provincetown had 5 of these smacks
devoted complete-time to shipping and delivery lobsters among the Cape and New York Metropolis. The
field was specified even more boosts by the advancement of canning factories in New
England in the 1840s, and also by the coming of the railroad and enhanced procedures
of preserving foods with ice.

Cape Cod at first offered all of the lobsters for the inland city markets, but, by
the Civil War, populations had been fished so very low that customers turned to the waters
of Maine to satisfy desire. As lobstering turned a tireless and whole-fledged New
England industry, restrictions had been similarly enacted to prohibit the dimensions and time
of the capture, and populations for the very last century have remained remarkably stable.

Cape Cod Now
At Chatham Harbor on a shimmering summer working day, with very little wind and no sea
running, the picturesque view of lobstermen tending their colorful pots close to
shore conjures up an suitable way of daily life. Even inside of the fishing business by itself,
lobstering is enviously referred to by fellow longliners and gillnetters as an effortless
“gentleman” fishery.

“Properly, we are lucky right here in Chatham,” states 30 12 months-old Chatham native and
lobsterman Ben Bergquist. “A large amount of the most effective fishing is just 8 miles from shore and,
typically all over the Cape, we have incredibly great lobster habitat with good base —
all in just twenty-5 miles. It is a enjoyable fishery when it can be great, but it is like just about anything
else– when it really is not heading very well, it is really certainly depressing, and persistence counts for
every little thing. All people who can make income from the ocean has to get the job done to make that
dollars. It is all up to you if you want to get out of mattress in the early morning and work or
not, no subject what the fishery, and lobstering is no various.”

In a fishery plagued yearly by predictions of crashing lobster stocks, Bergquist,
who started assisting his father at the age of eight and took above the boat, the Benjo,
in 1996, states that for himself just about every 12 months has gotten better. Though he has a
Bachelors diploma in Environmental Science and the possibility for a a lot more standard
job on-shore, he sees a robust future for himself in lobstering.

With a younger spouse, two daughters aged one particular and four, a home loan, and a sizeable
expense in equipment, he has located that hard get the job done and perseverance has paid out off just
like any other small business.

“Well, for absolutely sure, the effective times are averaged by an equivalent sum of hard-luck.
Everything’s trial and error, and every single year’s distinct. You can never rely on the
exact same factors going on 2 times. But at the close of the year it all arrives out in the clean.
Very last calendar year August was terrific and July was not, but which is not generally real. They
(lobsters) were just nowhere to be identified in July. And overall we caught them further
than standard for the reason that, for some rationale, I think the h2o was warmer deeper than in
shoal water. When it receives colder, they both hibernate or get off. Drinking water temperature
has all the things to do with it, and that may differ during the calendar year and from calendar year to
12 months.”

As a result, in buy to survive, lobstermen can’t find the money for to mindlessly return to the exact same
grounds that were being effective in the prior yr. They should frequently update
their information and facts by studying the lobster’s patterns and appetites well enough to
outsmart him.

Ben’s function-day really starts the former night time when he checks the weather. If
the fierceness of the wind and waves prohibits real fishing, he’ll continue to be on shore,
building or fixing traps, performing on his boat, or hunting for bait, something of
which he by no means has plenty of.

“I get bait from four or five various boats and some from the marketplaces. Codfish
heads or racks look to perform finest. We also use bass, bluefish, flounder, swordfish,
tuna. Any scraps at all will do the job. It can be awesome how superior lobsters flavor with their
diet regime, that a little something that will eat effectively any garbage in the ocean, can taste so
very good. I have a freezer so I can stockpile the bait, but it is a serious pain for confident.”

His sternman Chris Nash, also of Chatham, not only assists on the h2o with hauling,
rebaiting the traps and sorting the capture, but also with the laborous and ongoing
shore responsibilities.

“Chris and I alternate times on having the bait, so it will work out — but it is time-
consuming. A tote of bait fees three dollars, and you can bait 30 traps with that.
It can be somewhat affordable, but I’ve acquired 800 traps and that is a large amount of bait. We begin fishing in
April and we are finished in December, but the relaxation of the yr we expend executing equipment
function, creating new traps and repairing previous kinds. I however function with wood traps, even
even though I might fairly fish wire. The upkeep is less complicated, but they really don’t seem to be to capture
as significantly — so seventy-five per cent of my strings are even now wooden.”

Lobsters in the wild are each little bit as pugnacious as they appear and are notoriously
cannibalistic, so Bergquist neutralizes the much larger ‘crusher’ claw and the more compact
‘ripper’ claw with tight rubber bands. He prefers the bands (introduced in 1951)
since they do not pierce the meat of the lobsters claws like plugs, and so
present a far more handsome lobster in the marketplace.

“They’re pretty aggressive, primarily egg-bearing females, or males battling above
food stuff or women. Eggers will seriously try to eat all the things down to empty shells and attack
every little thing in sight.”

Gasoline is the lobsterman’s biggest expenditure , and then there is the equipment expense.
Shedding a string of traps to a storm or having a line cut by a passing propeller are
thought of outright losses. There is no this kind of factor as insurance policy for a lobster trap,
and, at fifty pounds a entice, a reduction of an entire string is not affordable. A 30 percent
decline of pots for each period is not unheard of.

Bergquist fishes 800 traps, hauling as a result of it totally each and every 4 times. For a
lobsterman, he claims, there is normally that fragile moment of suspense when the
incoming lure breaks the area and the lobsters are either there or not there.?

“At times all you see is a large orange glow coming up and the entice will be just
entirely stuffed, and which is authentic fascinating to see that many in the entice. I had a person
in which there was a massive 12-pounder, not ready to fit, but he experienced caught just one claw into
the entice and, when I hauled him up, he was hanging onto the bait bag with
anything he had. I pretty much went overboard striving to seize him. (Scenes from
Lobstering on the Benjo with Ben Bergquist can be viewed at http://

But my worst working day lobstering was the very first working day I ever hauled as a captain. I could not
find any of my pots. At initially I believed that every thing was absent, it was so foggy and
rainy. So I just drove blindly all over in circles, seeking and on the lookout. Finally I identified a
buoy and recognized that my LORAN was mis-established. I turned it off, then back on, and we
have been back on observe. The day was salvageable, but it sure didn’t start off also special.
And I have times exactly where I occur back again with only 40 kilos. People are in no way excellent times
but, like I said, it will work out.”

Bergquist’s boat, the Benjo, has a seawater tank in the keep that is preserved by a
pump that circulates oxygen in the similar way as a house fish tank. This is
where by the lobsters are retained alive and contemporary until finally delivery to the lobster pools of fish
markets on shore, and it truly is the true key to their freshness.

“If you might be acquiring a lobster, it is possibly alive or dead, and if it really is alive, it really is new. Sure,
it is really form of neat to obtain them correct off the boat, but any marketplace on the Cape ought to
be the identical. I sell mine to Nickerson Fish & Lobster, which is right on the pier, five
toes from wherever I land. You might say that is refreshing.”

Although unloading at the Chatham pier, Bergquist is typically approached by those people on the
higher observation deck looking for what they perceive as a fresher alternative to the
restaurant or market lobster pool.

“Folks talk to me, ‘Will you sell me some lobsters?’ and I say, ‘Sure, what do you
want?’ I give them a decreased value than they will spend in the sector, but a greater price
than I will get. A whole lot of time men and women will be so shocked that I reported ‘yes’, they’ll get all
jammed up about it. They will not know what they want exactly or they bicker, and I
don’t stop up providing to them.

And I also get calls from mates, ‘Ben, I’m obtaining a social gathering and I need 20 lobsters!’
But it really is not a major element of my revenue. I could have a tank at my household and a huge indication
that claimed “LOBSTERS,” but when I get in, I would just as quickly be done with it.

The the greater part of Bergquist’s lobsters are eaten correct listed here on the Cape, but his father
at the time transported internationally to Scandinavia in large quantity, driving suitable onto the
runway of the airport with the superior really hard-shell lobsters packed in durable Styrofoam
containers. That type of issue is nonetheless major business below on the Cape, with a host of mail-
get and dot com firms inclined to air ship lobsters alive and kicking to your
door, entire with Cape Cod seaweed, clams, and corn and potatoes.

According to Bergquist, the finest way to retain a lobster alive is ideal in your
refrigerator or on ice in a cooler — anyplace cool and wet so prolonged as the lobster is
not sitting in freshwater, where by it will drown. To cook dinner them, Bergquist suggests
steaming or grilling, not boiling, them. The proper quantity of time, which relies upon on
their dimension, should never exceed 20 or 30 minutes.

“Head 1st or tail initially it isn’t going to subject. My wife isn’t going to like to be in the space possibly
way. I like butter, and cocktail sauce is fantastic as well. I’m a Cape Codder. I try to eat it with
butter, and beer — which is truly the vital ingredient.”

Lobster-lovers are anxious, of system, not only with freshness but with selling price, and
Bergquist is visibly not comfortable when talking costs, “I get about seven bucks a
pound, so a 21-pounder, the biggest I’ve at any time noticed, would get about a $140. I’ve
never experienced a person in a cafe. I hardly at any time spend consideration to cafe costs. I get
$5.50 for a pick lobster and that same lobster may well go for $30. But wholesalers
have a large amount to offer with — lobsters that no one would like, or fatalities.”

He is careful to place out that, while he feels selling prices are reasonable to the lobstermen, it truly is
no get-abundant-brief plan. Lobstering is good continuous revenue in a fishery that is
unpredictable at very best.

“You can make a whole year’s pay out in 3 months, but it goes the other way as well. If you
can deal with that fluctuation mentally, you will be fantastic, but you have to like it to do it.
There are brutally chilly mornings and instances when the fish just aren’t there, and you
make the ideal of it. If the federal government lets me fish, I consider it is really achievable to fish the
relaxation of my daily life. I’d like to go one more ten yrs for certain, I know that a great deal. But I hope
by then everything’s paid out for and I can get out if I want.”

The number of lobstermen on Cape Cod has dropped steadily from a significant of 1,865
in 1988 to about 1,500 today. But just about every single town on the Cape, from Sandwich
to Provincetown, continue to supports men like Ben Berquist, from whom you can land your
possess cooler comprehensive of lobsters, bypassing the restaurant and market swimming pools entirely.

“In the summer I get in in between 1 and 4 in the afternoon,” claims Berquist,
adding immediately, “Then once more, in the slide we can be in by noontime. It’s definitely tough to

So it may well be that if you can intercept a lobsterman, in his uncertain day by day round right here
on Cape Cod, you have figured out one thing of the lobster himself. For the
lobsterman, like his quarry, requires some searching, a bit of arranging, and a touch of
luck to catch.