‘It’s a pretty unique workplace’ Julie Collins
Lobster fishing a big part of island life
It’s the wee hours of the morning and while most people are snug in their beds, hundreds of lobster fishermen from coastal communities around the island are already steaming toward their fishing grounds.
Kevin Squires, 62, and his 29- year- old son Jonathan are on board Small Change, one of about 20 boats that fishes out of Big Bras d’Or.
It was dark when they arrived at the wharf located just a few minutes away from their home.
Fishermen are silhouetted against the sky as they untie lines and load gear.
There is a slight wind as Kevin, the skipper, navigates the boat out of the harbour. In his wake, several others boats are also on their way.
“It’s a pretty unique workplace,” said Kevin, who started fishing in 1976.
He planned to stay at it for a year or so, and never got around to stopping.
“I really enjoy doing something where you build and maintain your own workplace ( your boat), and you live and work with your neighbours. There is this real sense of community.”
While he steers, Jonathan is busy setting up for the first haul, making sure there are enough lobster claw bands, and cutting extra bait.
The Bird Islands, approximately four kilometres off Cape Breton Island, are visible in the distance as they leave the wharf, and within a half hour they are hauling the first trap off the north side of the islands.
A flock of seagulls hovers around the boat, some landing on the back and ready to eat anything that lands on the deck.
Black- legged kittiwakes, razorbills, black guillemots and Atlantic puffins dot the cliffs of the islands, with cormorants majestically perched high above.
Working in unison, Kevin skillfully zigzags the boat be- tween colourful bouys, as Jonathan gaffs a line and the hydraulic hauler pulls the trap up the side of the boat.
In fluid motion, lobsters are measured and banded, and the trap is thrown back in the water. As they work, there is constant banter about everything from recent documentaries to Cape Breton curse words, and what to have for supper when they return home.
There’s an occasional splash as the smaller lobsters are thrown back, along with any that are spawning. Kevin explains that spawning lobster can result in thousands more for the future.
The lobsters hauled on board are sometimes joined in the trap by a variety of other marine life, including perch, lumpfish and sculpin, which happily all end up back in the sea.
Throughout the season fishermen move traps according to where they think there may be patches of lobster, so a few remain piled up at the back of the boat waiting to be set.
A welcome break comes when the skipper heads for traps a few miles past the Bird Islands. There is hot water from a insulated flask for tea, homemade biscuits, cheese, and a bite of chocolate for Jonathan’s sweet tooth.
Once all those lines are hauled, the boat heads farther out to sea.
In the distance, a tanker makes its way past the Lingan generating station, probably on its way to the Grand Narrows Gypsum Plant.
“There are maybe 10 or 12 boats that fish this way out of Ingonish,” Kevin said.
“There’s another 25 or 30 out of North Shore and Little River, six or seven out of St. Anns Bay, and 60 or 65 boats out of Alder Point and Point Aconi, and there are a lot more boats in Area 27. It’s a major industry with a lot of spinoffs.”
As they make their way back toward the Bird Islands — this time to check lines on the south side — there are seals bobbing in the water, and a couple more lounging on a large rock.
Once those lines are pulled, it’s a bite of lunch while on the move to check the lines off Cape Dauphin.
The sea is rougher in this area, making it a challenge to stand still in one spot.
“I find being nervous useful when you are on the boat,” said Kevin. “For most people, the floor they work on isn’t constantly trying to get out from underneath them. Fishermen have to be constantly aware of their surroundings, which are always moving.”
While off Cape Dauphin, they have a unique view of the Fairy Hole cave on the northern tip of Kellys Mountain. According to local historians, Gaelic- speaking immigrants more than likely brought their superstitions with them from the Old World, and were convinced that the cave was home to “the little people” ( fairies). Thus it became the Fairy Hole cave.
Once those last lines are hauled, the skipper signals “we’re done” and heads for shore.
The buyer is waiting at the wharf.
Once the catch is unloaded, the boat is made ready to go at it again the next day.
Skipper Kevin Squires, left, checks the carapace size as his helper Jonathan Squires bands lobster. The pair is aboard the Small Change, one of about 20 boats that fishes out of Big Bras d’Or.
Jonathan Squires on board Small Change uses a gaff to snag the line for a lobster trap next to the Bird Islands.
The sun rises just off the Bird Islands as skipper Kevin Squires and helper Jonathan Squires haul their first lobster traps of the day.
A seal basking in the sun kept a watchful eye as skipper Kevin Squires navigated waters on the south side of the Bird Islands.
The crew on the lobster boat Darcy R & Sara B fish next to the Bird Islands as seen from Small Change skippered by Kevin Squires.
A seagull made sure it was noticed after landing on the stern of the lobster boat Small Change.