While staying in Kennebunk, Maine this summer, I spent most mornings at Cape Porpoise, sitting at my favorite bench at the docks, sipping a store-bought paper-cup coffee as I watched the fishermen go about their business. There was one lobsterman in particular that I often saw tending to his small craft, while the majority of his fellow seamen were out since dawn setting or emptying their traps. Eventually I established a friendly rapport with him – his name was Pete. Pete told me a little about his life – 32 years old, married with three boys age between two and 12, and a daughter aged nine. Pete’s wife runs a local children’s day care center. She is the sole proprietor, and her income is important to the family’s financial well-being, which was severely impacted by Covid when the day care was shut down. Their children have been home schooled since quarantine but will return to their public-school classrooms in the fall. Pete has been lobstering since graduating from high school; he received his training as a first mate on a 42-foot Down East-style lobster boat.
His days now start well before his family is awake. Though he only takes the boat out twice a week, the earnings are enough to support his growing family when combined with his wife’s income. But lobster, like other commodities, fluctuates in price. The “dock” prices have dropped dramatically in recent months, with retailers selling the prized crustaceans for a few dollars less. The reduction in price is happening at the same time as an increase in fuel and bait costs, as well as costly conversions intended to protect rare whales. “There is something different about the price drop this time,” Pete said. “This month I saw truckloads of lobster taken to the dump. Folks can’t afford both lobster and gas these days.”
Lobster was once so plentiful earlier Americans used it as fertilizer and prison food. Perhaps it hasn’t reached rock bottom yet. I asked Pete what he would do in that case. He gazed out at the choppy waves before answering. “I really don’t know,” he said, adding, “now I hear the government is going to reduce the number of traps we can set because lobster may declared an endangered species.” Pete seemed saddened by our conversation. He looked around at his mates, who motioned to him to scale the ladder down to his boat aptly– and ideally–named “Rebound.”