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

    Vietnam Mulls Tough Measures for ‘Misbehaving’ Chinese Tourists

    Move comes after footage surfaced online of Chinese travelers harassing a banana hawker in Da Nang

    Pakistan Social Media Star's Honor Killing Fuels Debate

    Qandeel Baloch's murder puts spotlight on deadly tradition and other mistreatment of women

    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.
    Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Borderi
    X
    July 22, 2016 12:30 AM
    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.
    Video

    Video Number of Syrian Refugees Arriving in US Jumps

    The United States is committed to resettling 85,000 refugees from around the world by October. Of that number, 10,000 will come from Syria and already some 4,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States, many of them settling in the state of Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from Chicago, their arrival is not the end of a difficult journey to find peace and stability.
    Video

    Video Rio’s Trams Await Olympic Tourists

    Over the past century, many cities around the world replaced electric trams, prone to breakdowns and backups, with faster and more spacious buses. But for some reason restored antique trams are a huge tourist attraction. So it’s no wonder the authorities in Rio de Janeiro are busy restoring their city’s old tram line ahead of the Summer Olympic Games. VOA’ George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora