A Day in the Life: A Photographer Goes Lobster Fishing

The day starts early.

I need to be up by 5 a.m., have some breakfast and fill the Thermos with coffee for the upcoming day on the water. A quick check of the weather tells me that the day should be calm but cool.

I will be spending the day with local fisherman Kevin Mitchell. His boat, the Early Day, is docked in Boutiliers Cove in the community of Hacketts Cove, Nova Scotia. Kevin has been fishing in St. Margarets Bay for some time now, and for the most part, he harvests alone, although some days his wife works alongside her husband as an able-bodied deckhand.

I arrive at the dock to find Kevin hard at work. He’s been there for an hour already, prepping the boat for the day. He has the boat warming up and the bait is all loaded and ready. I passed my gear onto the boat and after a very thorough orientation, we set off in the twilight just before sunrise.

Steaming out to the first set of gear, Kevin gives me a brief history lesson on the ever-changing shoreline. The wheelhouse is dark, with the exception of the soft glow of the various screens showing our route and I enjoy some coffee as we skim across the calm water of the bay. Kevin seems very at ease on the water and I am all ears as he relates stories and factual details of his past.

Kevin fishes within the confines of St. Margarets Bay. Not unlike other fishermen in the Bay, Kevin’s boat is smaller than those working offshore, but is just as functional.

As we approach the first buoy of the day, Kevin maneuvers the boat skillfully to allow him to easily reach over the side with the gaff and snag the buoy line. A quick flip into the hauler and the line starts to coil on the deck as the trap nears the surface.

The trap is lifted against the side of the boat and Kevin quickly grabs it and slides it onto the working side of the boat. I watch as Kevin seamlessly flips off the clips holding the trap door shut and reaches in to find two small lobsters. Giving them both a quick measure to confirm they are too small, he then tosses them back in to grow a little more. The trap is cleared of any old bait and then quickly re-baited, and after Kevin decides whether this location is still viable, he quickly pushes the trap back over the side, marks the spot on his GPS so he knows where it is and then throttles up the engine as we move on to the next trap.

After three or four traps are emptied, Kevin takes time to correctly band the lobster’s claws using a tool specifically designed for the task. The elastic bands protect the lobsters and anyone handling them after the fact.

This process is repeated over and over until all of Kevin’s 75 traps are checked. The work is repetitive and very hard on the body. The steel traps weigh in the range of 60–70 pounds and after an hour or so I started to appreciate the effort that Kevin puts in and for that matter, any fisherman doing this kind of work.

The water remained calm and midway through the day, the sun returned, making for a very enjoyable experience. Despite the slow start, harvest-wise, the catch improved gradually as the day wore on. Kevin was very informative as he worked on answering all my questions, regardless of how silly they must have seemed to him.

Kevin fishes in LFA 33, which means his season starts in late November and finishes at the end of May. The time frame means there are many days working in less than ideal conditions. I know myself from the many times I have waited dockside for various fishermen to return home. The cold winter winds chill you to the bone. There are times during the winter when it’s just not feasible to harvest. I have seen many boats return to the dock after trying to work in the freezing conditions, but they just can’t overcome the cold.

The day takes us along the east side of St. Margarets Bay, past various communities, and around a cluster of small islands near the head of the bay.

On our way back, after all of the gear has been checked, Kevin deviates his course a bit to ensure I get to see my house from the water. In doing so, we also run into one of the other fishermen and they idle their boats close together and have a conversation that only two fishermen can have. There is definitely camaraderie between the group that harvests inshore in the bay. They work alone but can’t wait to share stories together.

After the conversation ended, Kevin steered the boat back towards the south and we steamed back to the dock.

My day was a tremendous success. I was able to photograph a hard-working fisherman up close and personal. He showed me just how hard this lifestyle is, but he relished the moment. I noticed several times when we were between traps how comfortable he looked leaning on the wheelhouse wall, hand on the wheel.

As we headed back, I could clearly see how much he loved being on the water and at one point he caught me looking at him. He smiled and said, “Nothing beats a calm day on the water.”

After we docked, Kevin offloaded his catch from the day and started to close the boat. He still had to haul his catch to the retailer, 10 minutes down the road, before he could head home.

We shook hands, and I headed home with the biggest smile on my face.

All told, I was on the water for just over seven hours. I was able to photograph with a freedom a photographer rarely finds in a journalistic sense. Since that day, I have tagged along with other fishermen and the results are very similar. They all work hard. They all complain about what they do, but they all smile when they tell me how much they love being on the water.

I, for one, have a newfound respect and even a tad bit of envy for these hard-working folks who have a tough but rewarding lifestyle.

 

Story and photos by Ian Proctor
Ian Proctor is a freelance photographer residing in Seabright, Nova Scotia.

 

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