Monhegan Trap Day 2012

Thu, 11/01/2012 - 9:45am

The start of lobster fishing on Monhegan begins weeks before anyone gets a trap in the water. Boats are hauled out of the water for maintenance, traps are tied on, sternmen are hired, bags are baited. The real action starts Trucking Day, the day before Trap Day.

September 30 this year was no different; sternmen, captains and volunteers put on their rain gear and went out into the downpour to get all of their traps onto the dock. It rained all day long; everyone was soaked; and at the end of the day when all of the traps were in their proper place the sun came out. It was a beautiful evening.

At that point some of the captains had loaded their boats with the first set of traps they planned to set in the morning, some waited to load up until the next day. The forecast for wind didn't sound good, so they met in the fish house to take a vote on whether or not to set the next day. It was decided that the seas would be to rough and Trap Day would be moved from October 1 to October 2.

October 1 dawned with a beautiful sunny day but high winds and rough waters, 20 plus knot winds and 6- to 8-foot seas. The captains made a good decision to wait.

Sometimes the fishermen will haul in this weather but setting would be quite difficult with only one side of the dock able to be used. Some last minute preparations were made and captains were anxious for the next day to get started with the season. Everyone went to bed early and was up before dawn.

October 2 dawned a beautiful day: flat; calm and sunny. Usually the captains would be on their boats and ready to go at dawn, but due to extreme low tide not everyone was able to get their boats loaded early.

Tradition on Monhegan is that the season doesn’t start until everyone is ready to go. Around 7:30 a.m., some of the captains were getting anxious, so they left their moorings to motor around the harbor while they waited.

There was chatter on the radio amongst the captains checking in with one another. The last boat was loaded and they were about to blow the air horn to signify the start when one of the captains came across the radio with distress; he lost his shifting gear and may need to be towed back to his mooring.

The same captain came back on the radio moments later announcing that he has cobbled his gear together with his vice grips and he is ready to set. That could have meant a whole day's delay. The air horn blows at 7:40 a.m. and the nine boats laden with traps are off in all directions to their favorite first setting points. There were daytime fireworks to add to the excitement.

On the wharf people were in good spirits. It was a great day to be outside, working and taking part in a Monhegan tradition. There are young, old and in between helping out, dragging traps to all sides of the dock as captains yelled out “header, tailer, header, tailer” or anything else he needed. A local musician played her accordion from time to time. Food was brought down for the workers to keep their strength up. The day passed pleasantly without any major problems.

Most people were done setting around 4 p.m. Some quit for the day to finish up the next, others didn't get in until dark. The captains with bigger boats that can take almost 100 traps out at a time finished the earliest and went back around to haul a few traps for the first lobster dinner of the season. Everyone went to bed exhausted.

Changes to trap day

“Trap Day 2012” is another year of change for the Monhegan lobster fleet. Six years ago the season changed from December 1 to October 1. At that time the fleet gave up 300 traps in order to protect their conservation zone. This year they were able to gain back 100 traps because there were changes to the apprentice program and the fleet became part of the state of Maine Island Limited Entry Program.

The trap limit is now 400 per captain with a license. The apprentice program conforms with the rest of the state; Monhegan does not have its own set rules. With the change in the apprentice program, fishermen with Class I, II, and III licenses can move out to Monhegan and fish there without going through a separate apprentice program.

The Maine Island Limited Entry Program regulates that the fishermen fishing in an island zone live there year-round. There are specific criteria that need to be met to prove residency. Most people believe these changes are a benefit to the fleet and to the community, with a few exceptions.

A larger trap limit and specific criteria for residency are definitely beneficial. More traps will hopefully equal more money and the residency criteria keeps people from living elsewhere and coming to Monhegan just to fish and not be a community member.

When October 1 became the start of the season, fishing was really good from October to the end of December. Fishing fell off so dramatically in January and February that a lot of captains take up some of their gear or only fish once per week. As a result people are leaving for 2 to 3 months in the winter time and sternmen leave at the end of December to return in April when the fishing gets better.

The winter community becomes very small during this time period and this makes people worry about the viability of a healthy, growing year-round community on Monhegan.

The flow of the year is very different now as well. Monhegan has a vibrant tourist season from Memorial Day to Columbus Day and several people make their living from tourism. Those tourist months are long and exhausting working almost every single day long hours.

When Trap Day was December 1, there was a nice quiet lull where the tourists were gone, people started tying on traps at the end of October and there was a period of rest.

December 1 would come around and there was a party atmosphere, friends and family would come out to the island to help with trucking and setting. People, food, and drink, sometimes a pick -up game of soccer or kickball up at the ballfield.

Now there isn’t the time for all of that. Fishermen and sternmen would be here through the winter with just a few short breaks.

Change is never easy, especially when some of your favorite memories and gathering as a community surround a time and tradition. Now it is a new tradition; one that people with tourism businesses can’t wholly partake in because they are still busy running their businesses.

Tourists come out specifically for Trap Day, making it more about them than our small community. But some things remain the same, young and old help out the best they can, one crew calling themselves the “AARP crew.” The students at the school make a gift each year for the captains and help out for a few hours, and at the end of the day you feel like you put in a good hard days work.

The Monhegan captains include: Angela Iannicelli, Anthony Hooper, Benjamin Murdock, Christina Cash, Christopher Smith, Douglas Boynton, John Murdock, Kole Lord, Lucas Chioffi, Mathew Thomson, Mathew Weber and Sherman Stanley. Iannicelli and Lord are not fishing captains.