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Sunday, March 28, 2010

When I returned to that place I called home, Monhegan, I had a job on a fishing boat.We went off on the 4th of July gill-netting ground fish.Thats hake,pollack,cod,cusk,some monkfish,a shark occasionally.These fish live close to the bottom so the net was rigged to sink then stand up off the bottom so the fish would swim into them and be caught by the head..gill-netting.We would make one day trips to start when the fish were close to the mainland.Then the dogfish would come in and we would move offshore taking two day trips.
We would have the pens full on deck when we were day tripping.So just for fun we would grab our fishing poles and sit on the picking table as the party fishing boats passed by.They would see us and six or eight thousand pounds of fish and think we had jigged them all.I'm sure the boat captain set them straight though.We sold mostly in Boothbay Harbor.Many trips were ended with us shacking (gutting)fish till the early morning hours.If we had ten thousand or more pounds we would hire a couple of gutters to speed up the process.Then we would go down to a little eatery that served breakfast at two o'clock in the morning.Then back to the boat for a couple hours sleep to awaken to the sound of the engine as we steamed out to the gear.This routine lasted only till the voracious dogfish arrived on the grounds to drive the fish off.
The routine of offshore fishing was less hectic but exhausting in it's own way.We had three strings of gear and to keep the fish fresh we would haul the gear then shack the fish and ice them in the fish hold below deck. As  times changed and fish prices rose quality became paramount.We cut between strings and iced the fish below.This process made for a longer day although as the years progressed the catch diminished so it didn't make much difference.We mostly ran to Portland to land our catch at the fish exchange.I had bought my first boat and married in 1983.Katy and I moved into our first house on Monhegan and suddenly trip fishing lost it's allure.Of course It had also lost it's profitability as the fish grew scarce.I can't begin to estimate the tons of fish we had landed in the few years I was in the fishery.I knew something was going to change when the captain of the vessel I worked on showed me a computer printout(back when computers spit out reams of paper reports)that listed frozen fish stocks.The freezers were full of fish bought at pennies per pound (our boat prices)to be sold at dollars per pound.That was the final nail in the coffin for the few boats still in the fishery as the meager catch was devalued by frozen inventory to the point of being worthless.My last day came as I pitched roughly two thousand pounds of beautiful hake over the side because there was no market for them.That was the story.Not that the fish weren't there,but the market was glutted and there started to be quotas for the boats so as to stretch the limited market to include all the boats.That was the end of that.Now just about every species of fish is so regulated you need a reference book to know how many and what size on which days of the week you can land them.Now with automatic identification systems (bought by the boat owner) observers at the dockside,and( I hear) video cameras on the boat I'd be surprised if any small boats will last long.I envision only large factory freezer trawlers will be left soon.Although I heard the theory that this created greater access to the fishery because shareholders of the corporations that own these behemoths will be counted as fishermen.I wonder how many pairs of boots and gloves and oil gear they will be purchasing?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

My experience in life on Monhegan

There is a philosophy that reality exists in the perception of that reality.So it follows that there are as many worlds or realities as there are people to perceive them.Or we all live in our own world to an extent.Certainly no two peoples experiences are the same.Even if they experience the same event.That is how I feel about living on Monhegan.It may even be more valid here as no one seems to see Monhegan the same as anyone else.
 I arrived on the island in the summer of 1973.Just having  graduated from high school and ready for a change.And what a change it was.Living on an offshore island was isolation and solitude I had never experienced in my small town then city life.You see,in 1973 we basically camped in cottages in the winter.Camping means;no running water,no electricity,very little company.There was a mental adjustment to be made or you wouldn't stay sane.My first winter I sterned (sternman on lobsterboat)for a guy who lost all his traps the first couple of weeks after bad storms.We were grappling for traps off the backside of the island,me sick as a dog,in very rough seas.I remember thinking'Is this any way to go lobstering?'The next day I got laid off as the guy had no gear to tend.I spent the spring chasing another fisherman down the beach till I could earn enough money(Pay was $45.00 a day)to buy a ticket out of there.
I always intended to return with a stake to start my own lobster business.While I puzzled that out I worked in a factory for Rayovac running blow molders and other machines making parts for batteries and other products.One machine put nylon rings around button battery shells.Repeating the same motion 1100 times a day.Good training for lobstering ,which is very much like factory work.You tend traps basically the same way.
It was while working for rayovac I saw an old High school buddy of mine.His dream in high school was that we would enlist in the marines together under the buddy program and go to boot camp and then serve together.I was very skeptical of that plan as I didn't think it would work out that way.At the time it seemed rash,but in 1975 being older I decided to do it and enlisted.My friend was angry,but forgave me.
Skipping the service for this entry,(I'll revisit in another installment.)I returned to Monhegan to make my home.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hello, my name is Dave Boegel.I have been a lobsterman on Monhegan island for the last 28 years (24 on my own).I have been quiet and stayed in the background  for the most part, but now I feel a need to vent so here goes.
I started fooling around with traps in 1973 when we bought kits of bottoms , bows and oak lathes. the ballast was poured cement .The traps still needed more weight to sink them initially .That required rocks. We put the rocks in the truck, then the boat and set them in the traps. after the traps soaked enough to stay down on their own we reversed the process.
Well that business turned out to be so much work I decided to do what I always wanted to do since high school. In 1975 I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps .I endured basic training at the San Diego Recruit Depot graduating meritorious private first class .Infantry training school at Camp Pendelton and Twenty -Nine Palms California ,then two years in Hawaii (didn’t I love that).followed by a return to Camp Legeune and my military occupational specialty which was a forward observer for 81mm mortars. A brief history of accomplishments :qualified expert with the m-14 rifle; ninth award expert with the m-16;expert with the 45 caliber pistol. I also familiarization fired every weapon indigenous to the u.s.m.c. circa 1980.  The u.s.m.c. requires the marine qualify with the rifle once a year. I had 9 awards in 4 years because  I went to the rifle range whenever there was an opening. I was there so often they made me a range coach. That was my favorite job . Then in 1980 I received my honorable discharge with medal of good conduct. So with my small savings from my 6 years of service I returned to my home, Monhegan. In 1984 katy and I married and settled into our first house. I bought some traps from different lobstermen on island ,and some new. I had a mix of wood and wire for several years.
When the first wire traps came along we were skeptical. we all know how that turned out. I would estimate the wire trap is as important a development to the efficiency of lobstering as the motor and hydraulic hauler. when I started the minimum size was 3 3/16 inches. We measured a little differently than today .In those days if the measure went from parallel measured up to the center line on the carapace the lobster was good. Now the measure is held parallel to the center line .I had a warden argue that one with me. He kept swinging the measure down while saying parallel. Finally I had to ask him if he knew what parallel meant. I gave up on that one. We knew that at 3 3/16 inches we were catching the majority of females before breeding maturity. that’s why we started v-notching. The v-notch definition was clear. A clean cut with no setal hairs coming to a point at least 1/8 of an inch long, or any mutilation that could obliterate a notch. Then someone had the idea to raise the measure (although the stock was fine) allowing more females time to reach breeding maturity. The theory being more breeders equals more lobsters. Then the state decides to change the v-notch definition. Today’s definition ,as far as I know, is any mutilation. I think that is to broad and open to interpretation. Although once the lobsters leave my boat there is no question. The first ten years I went lobstering  the only warden I saw was the one that came to verify my existence for my first license in 1980. The license was for a sternman as then if you worked on a lobster boat you needed a license. We were sticklers on the regulations. We had the first trap limits. They were self imposed ,agreed upon and adhered to, by all the lobstermen on Monhegan. We fished from January 1st to June 25th  .
 Now we have a trap tag system that is cumbersome and serves as another regulatory tripwire that can result in disproportionate penaltys for a simple rule violation. One day in January I was hauling 10 fathom warps backside of manana when I was boarded by a marine patrol officer who proceeded to break a lobsters back  with his measure while declaring I “couldn’t keep that for $6.00 a pound”. Then  he wrote me a warning for not permanently marking  my 3x5inch bouy. I had written my license number in marker but this was not sufficient. Upon leaving he said (not knowing me at all) how I should be afraid of wardens or something like that. Most boardings, as they became more numerous , went without incident. Then one saturday in early june in the mid 1990’s I was just setting back my last pair of traps on gull rock shoal when a marine patrol hauled up alongside me and smilingly asked me if it wasn’t late. I responded, after looking at my clock , that it was just approaching Miller time. I found out that I had either missed the memo or forgotten  the Sunday closure starts at 16:30 hours on Saturday.  The wardens (who shall remain nameless) followed me to the harbor and rafted up with me at my lobster car. They proceeded to overhaul my catch and write me a summons for hauling in a closed area. That area being state waters. For hauling my own traps I was fined $160.00 and branded a class D criminal. This was more than ten years ago. Today we see much has changed. Management zones and zone councils who believe they are making policy but only make recommendations to the one entity who can make rules, the Commissioner of the Department Marine Resources. Lobster dealers having to keep catch records on all their fisherman. These things used to be confidential but I don’t think so anymore. Now I have a logbook and need to file detailed  monthly reports by the first week of the next month. If you don’t, or are late, it’s a regulatory violation to be followed by fines or even license revocation. I have to tell you I was not a good student in school and had many tardy homework assignments. I would guess this is a pilot program in preparation for the requirement of all lobstermen to keep logs. The one I have now seems to have little information of scientific value. However it does record pounds caught and where and when I sold the catch. All of which is also reported by the lobster dealer. I remember the term ‘independent  fisherman’ and used to think I was one. I’m not sure that term is relevant. I’m self -employed and pay the taxes to prove it. Why is it that I feel that I’m working for the state without pay or benefit?
    The situation today is dire for the Monhegan lobster fishery. When the state made the zones initially we were one. Then somehow we became zone D (although by name only because the line between Monhegan and zone D cannot be crossed by us). Along with the zones came the trap limit. A survey found the average number of traps in the midcoast area was estimated at 475 traps. The state then made that limit officially 800 traps. That led to an explosion of trap numbers and everyone (except Monhegan, with our 600 trap limit)built up to that number.This is when things started going downhill for us.Due to fishing pressure around us all year long we asked for and received an extension of our season to include December. With the extension we had several productive years. The state then decided to keep the market price flat to eliminate the price fluctuations that winter fishermen depended on. The result of this was another extension of our season to include October and December as to catch the fall run of lobsters. When we did this we (once again) gave up traps to a 475 trap limit. However included in the law was the commissioner of  the D.M.R.would set the limit. This issue would be open to discussion and could be adjusted as needed seasonally. I said in a meeting of the Monhegan registrants that this seemed reasonable and we shouldn’t anticipate being in an adversarial relationship with the D.M.R. We were cautiously optimistic that our request for 400 traps would be accepted by Mr. LaPointe. Mr. LaPointe stated that he had to confer with the zone D council and he would get back to us. The counsel told the commissioner that we couldn’t make it without at least 400 traps. The commissioner then set our trap limit at 300. That was 3 years ago. At our last meeting in august of ‘09 we again requested 400 traps and were denied. I told Mr. LaPointe that I didn’t make sufficient income to properly maintain my boat. Others also expressed their financial concerns.This provoked an angry response from the commissioner that we had entered into this agreement together,and we should be satisfied. Lately we received a letter from the commissioner that basically said we had failed and to fix it the area would be opened up to the rest of zone D.
    So the end result is a 100 year old fishery is close to going the way of all things. I personally am finding it impossible to sustain myself and my family with a business that used to make me a good living 6 months of the year. If it weren’t for our summer business we would have been forced to sell our home ,that is so much more than just a house and property, already. That reality is not far away. I am looking for some way to improve my income from other sources as are all fishermen.
    I wish “good luck, and god speed” to all in the same predicament as I realise this situation is not unique. Government regulation is not bad, but over-regulation is the killer of enterprises across the board.
    The peoples voice is heard from the ballot box and I urge everyone to vote. Perhaps we can effect real change in a positive direction for business. Without business there are no jobs and everything follows in decline.
    I hope this letter is read by everyone.