Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Lobster Cruise

Not all of Mount Desert Island belongs to the federal government. Acadia National Park takes up only about two thirds of the island, the rest remains private property. The gazillion tourists crowding in to see the National Park are much less interested in the little villages and homes that constitute the remainder.

At the south-west tip of the island is Bass Harbor, a well protected inlet where the island's fishermen keep many of their boats moored. On the west side of the harbor is the small fishing community of Bernard, the home of Thurston's Lobster Pound. We visited Thurston's for lunch one day while touring the area and had some BLT sandwiches. That's bacon, lobster and tomato (oh yeah, and a little leaf of lettuce). It's kind of like a lobster roll with a couple of slices of regular bread instead of the roll. The bread is pan toasted then onto it goes 3 pieces of thick sliced bacon followed by a healthy serving of lobster salad (at least as much as
Thurston's Lobster Pound
you'd see in most lobster rolls) topped by the lettuce and tomato slices.  It was a great combination and not one that we have seen offered anywhere else, which is kind of surprising.  These can't be the only folks who have figured out that everything is better with bacon.  Add chips and a local brew and you have a nearly perfect lunch.  The view out from the picnic table dining area was of a typical New England fishing village, quite peaceful and idyllic.  A pleasant change from Bar Harbor.
Typical fishing village
The town of Bass Harbor is on the opposite side of the inlet and after lunch we drove over there to take a short cruise around some of the smaller islands in the area and learn a little about the lobster business.
Bass Harbor
This is Captain Jim, our boat driver and tour guide.  He may not be able to do cubed roots or quote Chaucer but he seems to have an astounding grasp of everything there is to know about local history, the fishing economy, coastal wildlife and hauling lobsters.  According to Capt. Jim, when you talk about fishing in Down East Maine, you are talking about lobstering.  This was not always the case.  The early Maine economy was based largely on codfish.  There are captain's logs from the 18th century describing ships under full sail being brought to a complete stop by the sheer density of the schools of cod swimming in the Gulf of Maine.
Bass Harbor Light
The earliest settlers in this area came partly to harvest the timber and granite as building materials for the great east coast cities in the days before concrete buildings, but mostly they came for the cod.  This continued for a couple of centuries with no end in site and seemed to be a limitless resource.  Salted cod was shipped from Maine to the entire world.  But then in the last half of the 20th century the giant factory ships arrived.  Huge trawlers from all over the globe came here back in the days of the 3 mile territorial limit.  By the 1990s,cod had been badly over-fished.  When the yearly catch dropped to almost nothing they started placing controls on the catch, but so far the cod numbers have not rebounded and there are reasons to think they never will, at least not in our lifetimes.

In the meantime lobster, which was traditionally relegated to feeding the poor and prison inmates, had become a luxury item on city menus and Maine fishermen switched gears.  The lobster fishery, along with clams and mussels, is now essentially the only one left in Maine.

Remnant of an island village
The early fishermen initially settled almost exclusively on the numerous small islands that dot the Maine coast, which seems strange to us but made sense at the time.  There were almost no roads, the dense forests were almost impassible, so all of their trading and supply lines were maintained by boat anyway.  And if you are on an island 2 or 3 miles from the mainland you start your day every morning 2 or 3 miles closer to the fish.  Since most of the 18th century fishing boats were powered by the fishermen, this could make a huge difference in your day.

Pleasure boaters among the islands
Later on when the boats were steam or diesel powered and a couple of miles of ocean was less of a big deal, people gradually moved to the mainland, creating the numerous small fishing villages that are now a hallmark of the state.  Many of the smaller islands have been completely abandoned and have been turned into wildlife sanctuaries.  The rocky shorelines make a pleasant home for harbor seals as well as their much larger cousins, the grey seals.  The islands also support all of the bird species we saw on our puffin tour a couple of weeks back.  There are numerous white tail deer and even the occasional moose.  And the bald eagle, which had nearly disappeared from this area, is making a strong comeback.  We saw one on Hancock Island during our tour.  I tried to get some pics but with only marginal success.  If you want good eagle photos you'll have to go back to our visit to Minnesota here.

Harbor seals sunning on the rocks

Grey seal

Bald eagle flies overhead

Lobster in the trap
Capt. Jim has his own lobstering operation and at the end of the tour he pulled a lobster trap for us so we could see the process.  Maine has tried to avoid having lobster go the way of the cod by instituting strict rules on what lobster can be brought to market.  They must fall into a limited size range.  Lobster that are too small must be thrown back to gain more weight.  Lobster that are large produce way more offspring per pound than the little guys which is good for the population, so they also must be thrown back.  Any female carrying eggs also gets a free pass. 
Measuring the catch

So in the trap we pulled there were 9 lobster of which 4 were legal and the rest went back into the water.  What happens to them?  Well, in the area we were in there are lobster traps about every 40 or 50 feet in all direction for miles. So the critters that are thrown back almost immediately find their way into another trap where they relax, party a little and eat the tons of herring bait placed in the traps, well protected from all of their major predators until the next time they get yanked out of the water.  Maine fishermen are only sort of in the business of catching lobster.  They are mostly in the business of feeding them.

The result of all of this is that despite record harvests over the last decade, there are now more lobster in the Gulf of Maine than there have ever been.  126,000,000 lbs. of lobster were landed in 2012, up 25% from 3 years before and 700% compared to the 1990s.  Unfortunately for the lobstermen, they have become victims of their own success.  At the peak of the season last year the price paid to the fisherman for lobster at the dock dropped from $4.00 per lb. to $1.35.  They are working harder to bring in more product and taking home less money for it.  Obviously some adjustments need to be made.

In the meantime, we continue to do what we can to help relieve the lobster glut.  At the motorhome park where we are currently staying, the owner keeps a refrigerated tank stocked with live lobster and for a very reasonable price he will boil them up and deliver them to your rig.  Vicki and I each had a 1.5 lb. crustacean for dinner.  Life is good.

Last winter we spent three months working on the Navajo reservation in Arizona.  After a few months to sort through her feelings about it, Vicki has written up her impressions of the experience which we will be including in segments over the next few posts 

Working in Chinle
By Vicki Rains

For three months this was home sweet home
The hospital at Chinle has four motorhome sites next to their building which were all filled with other temporary workers while we were there, but they had assured us they would make arrangement for us when we spoke to them back in December. When we arrived in Chinle they were still making arrangements.  They had a vacant lot about 4 miles from the hospital building they were setting up as additional camping sites.  As we pulled in we noticed that workers were still busily setting up the
water and electricity and finishing the grading. They pointed out where we should go but the dump receptacle would have been right under the rig. When we first arrive
Hookup were full, if a little spread out
at a campground Roger is the one who drives the rig and backs in and it is my job to give him directions and guide him in.  However, the worker was not happy that I did not want to go where he had pointed, so he insisted on talking to Roger.  I thought I better not cause a commotion before we even started working so I dutifully went and got Roger, who of course agreed that we weren't going to park on top of the sewer connection then crawl under the rig to hook up.  So we parked next to the dump hook-up, which put us about 15 feet from the water connection and 25 feet from the electricity.  As we were connecting, we discovered that the 50 amp outlet was upside down which was a problem for our surge protector.  Fortunately the person who set it up was still in the yard so he came and corrected its orientation.

So what was home for 3 months? A gravel covered lot with no attempt to make it habitable.  There were no plants, no decent view, etc.  We never put out our rug or chairs because the area was so ugly.  The only time we went outside was when we needed to leave or when I needed to take the dogs for a walk.

Tribal residential area
Chinle is an ugly town with a lot of derelict buildings.  Buildings that need repairs aren’t getting them.  It is either because the Navajo don’t care or because they don’t have the money.  I think the answer falls somewhere in the middle, but closer to the latter.  The Navajo reservation is the poorest Indian reservation in the country.  To quote our son Christopher, “Who knew a third world country was so close.”

There is no barber or beauty salon in Chinle, a town of about 5000 people.  Where did we get our hair cut?  I got my hair cut when I went back to California and let it grow otherwise.  For Roger we had to drive 90 miles to Gallop, NM, the closest barber and closest city.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we were fortunate that we never got truly cold weather.  We had one slight sprinkling of an inch of snow that didn’t last and one significant rainstorm.  There was a fair amount of rain with the rainstorm and its consequence was to cause a sink hole about a foot deep and 5 feet in diameter where they had put in our water line.  Now we had a lake front property!

Dust storm
Dust Storms—When we were deciding whether to go to Chinle, we looked at climate charts and descriptions of the weather on the internet.  However, none of those websites mentioned the fierce winds that are almost constant starting a week or two into April and lasting for about a month.  The winds generally were about 20 to 30 miles an hour with gusts up to 50 to 60 miles an hour.  We were worried that the awnings over our slideouts would rip so we pulled them in whenever the winds really whipped up.  Since there is not much to do in Chinle on windy weekends we were stuck in our motorhome which was really cramped with the slides pulled in.  Fortunately we were just able to open up our recliners, though the foot rests touched the opposite wall, and use fairly passable internet for entertainment.  The recruiting company paid for the internet service for the 3 months we worked at Chinle.  

The building behind us is the residential drug and alcohol treatment center.  Just beyond that is the youth correctional facility.

1 comment:

  1. I fell in love with Canyon de Chelly when we were there but it is definitely a very poor Indian reservation. One of the things that bothered me the most were all the dogs that were just running loose and were hungry. They were all over the campground. Browning, MT is also on a reservation and looks a lot like this.