‘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.

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