Friday, December 1, 2006

TRAP DAY On Monhegan

It's Trap Day!

Today, provided the weather cooperates and all lobstermen are healthy and able to set traps, the 17 lobstermen of Monhegan Island will open their lobstering season. If one person can't go, they all wait. The decision is made by consensus (never a vote) at a meeting in the Fish House. Only lobstermen attend. No sternmen, no wives. No reporters.

Monhegan Island is a small (and rather famous) island off the coast of Maine. It has approximately 60 year round residents, and in the very early 1900's the island did something unusual. The island fishermen asked the state of Maine to ban lobster fishing within two miles of the island from July to December.

So while most of the rest of Maine's 7000 lobstermen have pulled up their traps and put up their feet by a warm fire for the winter (just kidding--most of those guys are all plowing roads, doing carpentry work or some other kind of work), Monhegan is just beginning to lobster.

They do it for a couple of reasons: Monhegan has one of the most vibrant summer tourist businesses on the Maine coast. Some of America's most famous paintings are of Monhegan scenes and on any summer day, multiple painters set up easels and paint (undisturbed) the Monhegan beauty. Fishing in the winter allows the lobstermen to work lucrative summer jobs and fishing in the winter assures that there's a sizable (by Maine island standards, anyway) winter population on the island. While other Maine islands are becoming seasonal communities, Monhegan is still a healthy, year-round place to live.

Secondly, Monhegan lobstermen have long been one of the leaders in lobster conservation and management of their business. Fishing in the winter brings higher prices for the hardshell lobsters that the catch.

Because there are no cars (only a few pickup trucks are allowed) on the island, and because the town dock has limited space it takes a coordinated effort to get each lobstermen's 600 traps down to the dock and set. Family and friends come from the mainland to help on trap day and all the islanders who are able, pitch in. Today, everyone cooperates.

Toward the end of the day, someone will observe another Monhegan tradition--one of the lobstermen will present the island's oldest resident with the first lobster of the season. 95 year old Rita White never asks, but she always gets the first one.

If you want more detail on Lobster Day, Colin Woodard opens (and closes) his excellent book The Lobster Coast with Trap Day.

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