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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs