News / USA

Lobster Fishermen Struggle as Profits Drop

At 68, Skip Ryan has been catching lobster for 46 years
At 68, Skip Ryan has been catching lobster for 46 years

Multimedia

Audio

In the port of Boston, amid the cargo vessels and whale-watching boats that motor in and out of the harbor each day, a handful of fishing vessels still make their livelihoods from the bounty of the waters.

No one would blame Skip Ryan if he didn't do this anymore.

It's four o'clock in the morning on one of the remaining lobster boats in the area and the 68-year-old fisherman is dragging a plastic trunk of fish carcasses across the dock toward his boat. The smelly haddock and pollack remains are bait.

In the 1980s, 80 lobster boats could be found in Boston Harbor. Today, there are 27.
In the 1980s, 80 lobster boats could be found in Boston Harbor. Today, there are 27.

All in a day's work

Ryan's skin is weathered. He's got creases in his neck and his canvas work pants seem to hang on his lean frame. He's made a living from catching Boston Harbor lobsters since 1964. He started even earlier.

"When I was a little kid, I found a couple of traps washed up on the beach and I was mesmerized by it, you know. With the nets and all that," he says. "I took home like four or five old ones, put them in my bedroom and rebuilt them and everything, and then finally went and got a license and put them in the water. So, basically, that's how I started. Sometimes I'm not sure if I've done the right thing or not."

The first stop for his 12-meter boat, "Finest Kind," is a channel right off the waterfront. Cruise ships dock on one side. On the other, long-haul cargo ships unload their containers. In the middle, Ryan starts pulling up his first line of lobster traps for the day.

Each trawl is basically a rope strung with twenty-five lobster traps - wire cages, each the size of a big trunk. As Ryan winches up the lobster traps from the channel floor, Paul Cabral pulls out any lobsters large enough to harvest, and throws back the rest along with anything else that got caught in the trap - mostly crabs and starfish. Then he puts in new bait - those fish carcasses.

Paul Cabral lines up the lobster traps on the boat's deck.
Paul Cabral lines up the lobster traps on the boat's deck.

Making do

Lobstering is not Cabral's main line of work. "I did it 20 years ago as a kid. I just needed some extra work."

He's been Ryan's sternman for the last month. They've been heading out extra early this week to beat the heat. It's now five in the morning, and Boston office towers are punching through the dawn haze. Cabral has worked in those buildings, too.

"An elevator mechanic. But I got laid off. So I'm waiting for Barack to do something about the economy so I can go back to my regular job," he says. "Hopefully things will get better quick, you know, because I love fishing, but not at 45 years old."

The first trawl is disappointing. They have only a dozen lobsters for twice as many traps. So they keep the traps on board and haul them out to a new spot farther out in the harbor.

After a long day, Skip Ryan prepares to take his lobster catch to a buyer.
After a long day, Skip Ryan prepares to take his lobster catch to a buyer.

"That's where the majority of the lobsters are, they're in the deep water," says Ryan. "That's where the channels are, so you gotta compete with the ships. Sometimes a barge, between the barge and the tug, the cable hits the bottom and it'll grab your trawl and scoop up a bunch of traps."

Ryan has lost a lot of traps that way. But he's also dragged up things ships have lost. Anchors, for one. He has one in his front yard. He once pulled up a molasses jug from the 1800s. And, right now, the trawl he's pulling up is brimming with lobsters. There are even a few five-bangers - traps with five harvestable lobsters in them. They're beautiful: pumpkin claws and green legs clouded by a veil of gray speckles.

Soon, 64 of these half- to one-kilo crustaceans are flopping around in wooden boxes. The two men work, and don't talk much. The only interruptions are seagulls and shouts from the two-way radio - other lobstermen shooting the breeze.

Challenging times

Back in the 80s, there was a lot more chatter. Eighty lobster boats ran out of the Boston Harbor. Today, there are 27.

The bounty isn't what it used to be. Thirty years ago, lobsters flourished around the sewage dumped at the edge of the harbor. They fed on the worms that fed on the sludge. Harbor cleanup put an end to that. But Ryan says that's not the main reason the number of commercial lobster boats has dropped in the Boston Harbor.

"It's not profitable. There's easier ways to make a living. The cost of doing business keeps going up. The cost of materials, bait and fuel, and the price of lobsters hasn't kept up with it. A lot of guys say it's just not worth it."

Ryan says he used to net 70 percent of what he sold. Today his profit margin is 30 percent.

After eight hours on the water, pulling up, emptying, and resetting 250 traps, the boat heads back to the Boston waterfront. The sun is straight above. Sailboats slice the water. Even at 68-years-old, Skip Ryan is not ready to give this up yet.

"People ask me, how long are you going to go, when are you going to give it up?" he says. "I'll know when it's time."

Back at the dock, Ryan and Cabral empty 135 kilos of lobsters. He'll get $10 per kilo. He'll buy more bait, clean the boat and get everything ready to go out again tomorrow.

Skip Ryan says commercial fishing may never return to what it used to be. But this lobster boat captain thinks as long as there are lobsters in the Boston Harbor, there will be lobstermen to drag them up.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs