Watching The Lobster Pot Boil

Yesterday our next door neighbor brought us a very Maine gift — four freshly caught lobsters– and last night we cooked lobsters at home for the first time. It’s not difficult.

First, find a big pot with a lid and fill it about halfway with water. We had bought a big pot at a yard sale that was perfect, so we were set on that front. Second, add some salt to the water. Third, toss in the lobsters and turn on the heat. (This isn’t easy to do — or at least, it wasn’t easy for me. But if you want freshly cooked lobster, you can’t be squeamish. That’s where having a pot with a lid is helpful.) When the water finally heats up to a boil, give the lobsters another 10 minutes and you’re ready to fish them out of the pot.

The lobsters came out bright red and succulent– just like you’d get from a local restaurant. They were delicious.

Now that we’re no longer lobster virgins, we’ll have to try steaming some clams next, so we can treat our guests to a “shore dinner.”

All Politics Is Local

The old saying is that “all politics is local.”  We’ve seen some very tangible evidence of the truth of that saying here in Stonington, Maine.

Last night there was a public hearing at the Stonington Town Hall about food trucks.  It’s a hot issue here for the small business owners.  There’s a limited “summer season” in Stonington when local businesses hope to sell their wares to tourists and visitors enjoying the sunny but not-too-hot weather, and also a limited amount of four-hour on-street parking in the “downtown” area that those tourists and visitors can use.  Business owners are concerned that food trucks can come and use those precious spots for the full four hours, potentially making parking a challenge and causing a visitor to pass their business by.  And the restaurants, all of which are locally owned businesses, aren’t happy with the idea of food trucks swooping in and taking away customers.

Stonington doesn’t have an ordinance governing food trucks.  Should there be one, and if so what should it say?  Last night the town’s Board of Selectmen heard from the public on the issues, and now they’ll decide.

And sometimes the politics is even more local — specifically, about one person with a piece of cardboard and a magic marker.  The sign below was posted on a telephone pole just at the eastern entrance to the downtown area.  Not knowing anything about the “whale rules” that the sign mentioned, I did a Google search and learned that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has promulgated a proposed rule to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale.  NOAA believes that the whales are at risk of death or injury from entanglement in the many buoy lines that connect lobster traps on the ocean floor to their buoy markers on the surface,  The new proposed rule would require Maine lobstermen to remove half of their vertical buoy lines in the water — which means directly reducing the potential catch.  In a town like Stonington, where many people are self-employed in the lobster industry, that’s a federal rule that could potentially have an enormous and direct impact on the town.  Public hearings on the rule will begin soon, and Maine’s congressional delegation has appealed to President Trump to quash the proposed rule.  They argue that there really isn’t evidence that the lobster buoy lines are responsible for the decline in the right whale population.

That hand-lettered sign just outside of town got my attention, and made me look into an issue that i wasn’t aware of before.  It just shows the impact of a little local politicking.

Lobster And Cocktails

There are worse ways to spend a Sunday night than with some fresh lobster and a cold cocktail. Then again, you could say the same thing with respect to every other night of the week. Or for that matter, with respect to beer, wine, or a glass of lukewarm water.

Fresh lobster goes pretty well with everything, now that I think of it.

Tools Of The Lobsterman’s Trade

Yesterday we went our for a boat ride on a beautiful day.  We were the guests of our neighbors and cruised around Stonington harbor and the nearby islands aboard their lobster boat.

They say you can learn a lot about an occupation by its tools.  For a lobsterman, the principal tool is the lobster boat.  Our neighbors’ boat is a hardy, trim craft that is clearly built for work.  Every inch seems to be devoted to the pursuit of the tasty crustaceans that dwell on the ocean floor.  There’s a lot of open space at the back of the boat for the lobster traps and the bins and buckets that hold the bait — which typically is some kind of fish that lobsters crave, occasionally mixed in with “de-haired beef hide” flavored with water, salt, and lime.  De-haired beef hide?  Our neighbor explained that the material is so tough that lobsters can munch on it for days, meaning they’ll hopefully stay in the baited trap, chewing away ,until the lobsterman hauls it up.

Every lobsterman has his or her own unique buoy, marked by color and configuration.  When they arrive at one of their buoys, they use a gaffer to catch the rope connecting the buoy to the trap, then haul the trap to the surface.  Our neighbor says he typically tries to check about 275 of his traps every day on the water. — and his days start at 5 a.m.  If there is a lobster inside the trap, the lobsterman uses the tool pictured above to stretch the yellow rubber bands and place them over the lobster’s claws, then put the lobster into a large plastic tank filled with water.  The trap gets baited and then returned to the ocean floor.  And every square inch of the cabin — and the exhaust pipe for the diesel engine, shown below — is used to store equipment, navigational monitors, knives, brushes, ropes, bungee cords, and other tools of the trade.

As I said, they say you can learn a lot about an occupation by its tools.  A lobsterman’s tools tell you that lobstering for a living is hard work. 

A Lobsterman’s Work Is Never Done

All over coastal Maine, the lobstermen are hard at work. Even though it’s the de facto off-season, when lobsters are inactive and the fishing is at a lull, there are boats to be examined and rekitted, motors to be tuned, and traps to be cleaned and tested. The smell of paint is in the air.

Our lobsterman neighbor worked all day yesterday on his gear, getting ready for the day when the boat goes back into the water and the traps and their identification buoys are placed in the old, familiar spots. The life of a lobsterman is not an easy one.

End Of The Season

The lobster season in Maine is over for the year. Those tasty crustaceans get a break for the holidays — and a chance to grow and replenish before next year’s season rolls around — and as a result the Maine countryside is awash in yellow. That’s because the old-fashioned wooden lobster traps you see in some seafood restaurants have long since been replaced by these bright yellow, metal traps, which are a lot more durable. The traps are all removed from the water during the off-season and are stacked just about everywhere.

Maine lobstermen and lobsterwomen work very hard, even during the off-season Along the coast you see enormous pick-up trucks, the lobster fisherman vehicle of choice, carting mounds the yellow lobster traps from dockside to workshop, where they will be examined, one by one, and repaired over the off-season. Our neighbor here has 500 of the traps, which he says is the legal limit. The traps are neatly stacked on pallets, and he uses a front loader to maneuver them into his workshop for repair. They’ll keep him busy this winter.

In Lobster Land

Psst!  I’ll let you in on a well-kept secret:  Maine has really excellent fresh lobster, in abundance.

No, seriously!  It does!  And I have enjoyed it at just about every meal.  I’ve had lobster and eggs for breakfast.  I’ve had a lobster roll — lobster meat on a split-top hot dog bun — for lunch.  (The Fish Net in Blue Hill makes the best one.). I’ve had baked lobster, boiled lobster, and steamed lobster.  I’ve bought live lobsters directly from a lobsterman.  I’ve eaten lobster on a beach where we’ve recycled the remains to the denizens of the deep.  And, for my first boiled lobster of the trip, I foolishly failed to bib up and ended up coating my shirt with water and lobster innards with the first crack of the claw.

After so much lobster, I’ve got just one question:  how much lobster do you need to eat to risk a bout of gout?