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Prepping for Peak New Shell Season
Fishing for lobster requires a lot of preparation, especially as the peak season approaches. There’s equipment to be maintained or mended, boats to be painted, and traps to be set. And of course, there’s a lot of waiting on the lobsters and Mother Nature. To get a sense of what it takes to get ready for peak New Shell season, we spoke to Brian Billings, third-generation Maine lobsterman from Stonington.
When is peak season for Maine lobster?
BB: Peak season is when the lobsters go from their old shell to their new shell. In my area, it’s usually around mid-July. The weather’s better, and you can pretty much haul traps six days a week, and fish closer to shore. It’s beautiful.
Why do you have to prepare for peak season?
BB: You’re always doing something, there’s always something that needs to be done. There’s really a 2-3 month process of going through everything and making sure everything’s top notch and ready to go. All of that stuff gets pushed off for the winter and spring months.
It’s amazing the beating the boat takes over the course of a season. I’ll try to do a lot of preventative maintenance work on the boat so that I don’t have to do it during the summer, even if it costs me up front.
It’s a time where you’re anxious, you want to be busy, you’re doing all this prep work … it’s a lot of anticipation and waiting.
What does preparing for peak season typically entail?
BB: Even if you fish year round, you need to take traps – all 800 – out of the water, stack them on your boat and take them to the shore, one load at a time. You’ve got to bring them through your shop, then back to your boat. A lot of people don’t see that behind the scenes maintenance – you either see the buoys in the water or the traps on land.
I’ll also haul the boat out of the water, paint the bottom, then put it back over. I often put the boat in the water early to make sure there are no mechanical issues.
For the first couple of days of the season you’re just setting traps, then you start working through them, hauling them up and seeing what’s in them.
What else changes for you as you get to peak season?
BB: Your whole lifestyle changes. During peak season, you go lobstering every day you can. Your home life basically disappears. We don’t go on vacation, we don’t take days off. It’s hard to do anything during the week.
Do you have any superstitions or routines about the start of peak season?
BB: I always try to bring the first couple of lobsters home as peak season begins. Get that fresh New Shell taste.
How does the way you fish change as peak season progresses?
BB: As the season progresses, I’ll move my traps accordingly. Sometimes you start closer to shore in shallow water, then move a little deeper as the season goes on. On average I shift about 20-30 traps a day from one location to another, but sometimes it can be much as 100.
During peak season, there are some areas I’ll leave traps in place for a couple months. But for 70 percent of the time, I’m constantly trying to move it, to stay with the peak lobsters wherever they are.
How do you mentally prepare for the peak season?
BB: Lobstering is like farming in a sense, you have to put all of your effort in first, then you’re dependent on the weather. You just hope that the weather and that stuff cooperates, and you get a return on your investment.
They call it fishing for a reason. There’s no guarantees, there’s a lot of anticipation. You’re kind of worried, but you’re also hopeful.