As Brad Parady searches for a table in the crowded Bagel Caboose restaurant while waiting for his bagel with chai, he's spotted by a familiar face. It is Sunday in Kittery Point, Maine, usually the only day he takes off, yet like a true lobsterman, he still finds himself on the subject.
“What are ya doin' these days?” a townsperson asks.
“Fishin',” Brad's Maine accent sneaks out as he replies.
“Still?” she questions.
“Yep,” he answers nonchalantly. Like a true Aquarius, the forty-one year old Parady, Captain of the “Angela and Ashley,” makes his living from the sea in the lobster fishery industry. He lobstered with his father, Bill, for fourteen years before starting his own business in 1980. The family trend continues on the boat; it is named after his two daughters: Angela, a senior in college, and Ashley, a sophomore in high school.
His worn boots and casual dress give him the air of a seaman: faded jeans, a flannel shirt peaking from behind a beige wool crewneck sweater, and a blue fleece. His hands look weathered and there's a patch of grey on the left side of his hair, but despite the sign of aging, he's in great shape. His excellent health is due to waking at 4 a.m. five to six days a week to be on his boat for at least ten hours a day year round. Apart from his clothes, the lobster tattoo that covers three-quarters of his lower left arm clears up any lingering questions about what he does for a living. “It came with the occupation,” he jokes.
Unlike the healthy image that Brad gives off, the fishing industry isn't doing as well and it's harder for businesses to earn money. In the 1980's fish populations were decreasing in Canada and the United States and a major step was taken in 1994 when Canada placed a moratorium on fishing. Since the moratorium, the industry has not been the same, and it may never be. While the United States hasn't put a stop to fishing, states are conducting educational surveys on the lobster, one of which Parady is involved in, and have adopted several laws for rejuvenating the fish population.
Lobsters have their own guidelines within these rules. The Department of Marine Resources (DMR) creates and enforces the restrictions. In Maine in 1996 the DMR announced the maximum number of traps a lobsterman could set out was reduced to 1,200, as opposed to the unlimited number beforehand. Since then the traps were reduced by 100 until the year 2000 implemented a permanent 800 trap limit. The standard trap size has to be between three and four feet long and have at least one escape vent. Parady says the vent was a “huge change; a bunch of guys didn't want to do it.” But to keep fishing, the guidelines have to be met. The traps must also have a minimum of two sliders - runners on the bottom to protect the lobsters' claws from breaking.
Other restrictions from the DMR include the size range of a lobster that may be caught. As Parady explains, if the lobster is smaller than 3 _ inches or larger than 5 inches (called “selects”), it has to be put back in the ocean. Female lobsters have to be inspected and if she is, or was ever, carrying eggs, she must be released. Prior to release, lobstermen should make a “V”-notch in the tail flipper to the right of the center one so that other lobstermen can free them right away. The DMR says that depending on the maturity of the lobster, a female can produce 6,000 to 100,000 eggs.
While the restrictions have been a bone of contention in the industry, Parady thinks they actually should have been implemented earlier. However, guidelines can't be set until it's realized that the catch is dropping. He says the restrictions “came when they were supposed to come.” How well the regulations work could determine the future of lobstering.
Though the regulations make it harder to earn money, lobstermen are still mum with each other on the whereabouts of the lobsters. “We hang out, talk about fishing, talk about engines, boats. We don't share information about catches or spots and if I do discuss fishing with anybody it's always to joke 'oh it's terrible, terrible, we're not catching anything. No, we didn't do that good,'” Parady says as he grins and talks with his hands.
The lobstermen are also affected by the fishing laws. The bait used for lobsters is typically herring, cod, and other fish. The restrictions on some of these fish cause some lobstermen to add artificial bait in, typically treated cowhide that makes the fish last longer. Parady prefers not to use artificial bait, along with herring and cod he uses pogey, redfish, and haddock racks.
On a recent trip out, with hard rock music blasting from his Sirius satellite radio (“bad music is bad for production” he says), Parady, wearing orange and yellow rubber cover-alls, fills the poly-propylene bait bags with about seven to nine fish, mostly herring and mackerel, from the large barrels stowed on deck. Apart from the rolling sea, the stench of dead fish is overpowering and it's a wonder that anyone can overcome seasickness and get used to the smell. When the traps are hauled up he unties the old bait bag, shakes out anything left, and ties the new bait bag in. Next the lobsters are taken out; any V-notched female is immediately thrown back. If she's carrying eggs Parady makes sure to drop her in so that her back will hit the water first. “You throw her in like that so the eggs are better protected,” he says. Any visibly small or large lobsters are thrown back in and the rest Parady measures. The length is measured from the eye socket to the beginning of the tail. Legal size lobsters then have their claws rubber banded and are put into the tank that Parady has aboard the “Angela and Ashley.”
Once the trap is empty and ready to be set it is moved to the back of the boat. The buoy and its lines are also checked. Each buoy has to be marked with Parady's lobster license number, #71952, and his colors - white, black, and orange - must be visible so other lobstermen don't pull his traps up. As the engine roars and the boat moves away, the traps are pulled off and sink down.
Regardless of the restrictions, Parady's business has done well. “My earnings have increased because there's been an upswing in catches the past 10-15 years [despite the overall decline of the population]. I'm not sure if it's the restrictions or the environment.” Demand for lobster is also higher than the supply so it drives the market. “Things have looked good. Prices were good last year,” he said. The week that Parady, who sells to Sea View Lobster, went out, the price for lobster was $5.85/lb. The week before that it was $7.50. The price fluctuation can be a problem with the cost of bait and the increasing cost for fuel. Jim Feehley, the taxi supervisor for Blue Star Taxi in the nearby fishing town of Portsmouth NH, says, “[lobstering] is a rough, rough job. They make their living, though.” Carl Wilson of the DMR commented, “In the Gulf of Maine, [lobster] abundance is very high, nearly 3 times normal. Industry has responded to this change in the resource with increased trapping capacity. If the abundance was to return to normal, we could be in for a very hard road.”
While Parady is a success story, others have not been as lucky. Christopher Tobey used to own the largest fishing fleet in Maine, but by 2002 he had downsized because of the laws and now focuses more on lobstering. At the peak of his business he was pulling in $10-20,000 a week and in one year he even made over $1 million. Despite the downsizing of his business, he says “I wouldn't have any other job...if I were ever forced to leave the business, I know it'd be my time to die,” but he cautions others. “It's a dying industry; anyone who is smart doesn't get into it.”
According to the Museum of Science, lobstering is most likely the oldest continuously operating industry in the United States. Apart from the restrictions, there are ongoing scientific studies that are designed to learn more about the lobster in hopes that the industry will survive as long as it has. For four years Parady has been involved in a survey run by the DMR and the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation (GOMLF). As Parady says, the purpose of the Ventless Trap Survey “is to find out the movement of the lobsters at different times of the year. I set the survey's traps in the same spot each year and I measure every single lobster that is caught. I give the Department my results and they compile mine, along with the other lobstermen, to try and figure out their movements and where they are at what point in the year.” By recording the lobsters' movement, researchers will be able to tell if the movement of the lobster is increasing or decreasing in a specific area.
The situation is not as simple as it could be. Added to the complication of trying to rejuvenate the population are lobstermen who have found ways to work around the restrictions. According to the online Gulf of Maine Research Institute, one such tactic is to scrape off the eggs of a female and then use bleach to get rid of any possible egg traces. Parady commented, “I think those people should be completely taken out of the fishery. It's all about getting money. I just think it's wrong. It is wrong.” It's especially wrong considering that the DMR says of a 100,000 eggs, only 1% will survive. If the survival rate were to be 2%, the entire population would double, something that could be as easily influenced by a change in the wind, according to the GOMLF.
Even if the population were to double, other threats are a danger to the lobster. Parady mentions the shell disease as one such threat. “The shell disease is on the outside of the lobster and it doesn't look appealing. There's nothing wrong with the meat; the shell just looks very crusty with black pitting.” Although the shell disease is more common in New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts “it has come here [Maine] a little bit, but I think because the quality of water up here is much better than that of certain areas in Long Island Sound, even in Boston Harbor, it won't be as big a problem.”
“The shell disease has pretty much killed the industry in different parts of New York; there's no fishing or lobstering in Long Island. Nobody knows if the lobsters will ever come back. I guess there have been a few more lobsters lately, but guys had to sell their boats. It was devastating,” he says. The Rhode Island Sea Grant says that the shell disease may not be natural, but caused from chemical side effects of industrialized areas.
Human impact may have caused the chemical side effects and overfishing, but others remain skeptical. Tobey thinks that overfishing is “bullshit” and a fabrication of the government. Parady doesn't necessarily agree, “I think it's a combination of both overfishing and nature, the fishermen have really overfished it and improved technologies have helped guys increase their catches. But also, there are climate changes that have been huge factors. The water is warming up and maybe there's less food for them to eat which can be affecting their migration patterns.” Parady also tends to listen to the scientists' views on overfishing. “I've begun to agree a lot more with the scientists because I've been more involved in the research part of it with the surveys,” he says.
Whatever the cause, the future of lobstering may not rely solely on restrictions. Lobster farming is another approach to replenish the stocks. The Lobster Conservancy explains that the lobster eggs hatch in “kreisels,” holding tanks that continuously circulate the lobsters so that they can't fight one another, thus ensuring a higher survival rate than in the ocean. The lobsters can also reach maturity faster by warming the temperature in the tanks and once they reach the postlarval stage they are released back into the wild to try to help replenish the population. However, farming should not be seen as an alternative to the restrictions since it is not known whether farm lobsters behave the same as wild lobsters.
Parady comments, “I don't think farming lobsters is the answer to making catches more abundant. I think the restrictions will take care of everything. The lobster cycle is like everything else, there are good years and then there is a down time. It always comes back.”
This attitude helps, considering that he would never leave the business. A sign hanging in his boat deck reads “Home Sweet Boat” and epitomizes that lobstering isn't just a job for Parady, it's who he is, and, like the Maine state motto, it's “the way life should be.” Before weathering another day in the lobster industry, he'll take a short break. “I'm filling out an application for the Bachelor Lobsterman Calendar” he says with a smile.
“American Lobster.” Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. April 11, 2006. http://www.asmfc.org/americanLobster.htm.
Department of Marine Resources: State of Maine. April 21, 2006. April 17, 2006. http://www.maine.gov/dmr/index.htm. Path: Laws and Regulations; Lobster Laws and Regulations.
Feehley, Jim. Personal Interview. April 20, 2006.
“Lobstering History.” Gulf of Maine Research Institute. August 9, 2000. April 17, 2006. http://www.gma.org/lobsters/allaboutlobsters/lobsterhistory.html.
MacKenzie, Christine. Joint Fisherman and Scientists Research Society - Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, Lobster Science Workshop, 2005. Fisherman Scientists Research Society. Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation. February 24, 2005. April 20, 2006. http://www.fsrs.ns.ca/doc/Lobster_Summary_Report_2005.pdf.
Parady, Bradford. Personal Interview. 9 April, 2006.
Somers, Barbara. “Lobster Shell Disease.” Rhode Island Sea Grant. April 18, 2006. April 20, 2006. http://seagrant.gso.uri.edu/factsheets/lobster_shell_disease.html.
The Lobster Conservancy. 2003. April 18, 2006. http://www.lobsters.org/index.html. Path: Biology; The Lobster's Future.
“The Ventless Trap Survey.” Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation. 2006. April 20, 2006. http://www.gomlf.org/ventless.htm.
Tobey, Christopher. Personal Interview. 9 April 2006.
Wilson, Carl. E-mail Interview. 24 April 2006.
Perry, Herb. “Fishing boats silent at town dock in Kittery.” The Portsmouth Herald 21 July 2002. April 26, 2006. http://www.seacoastonline.com/2002news/07212002/maine/15152.htm.