Modern Methods Sink Grandfather's Ways


For most of his life, Jon Rogers fished for lobsters the way his grandfather taught him.

He built his own wooden traps and set them just offshore in the traditional territories of Bailey Island lobstermen. He hauled the traps in by hand and sold his catch to the main buyer in Mackerel Cove for whatever the boat price was that day.

Today, Rogers typifies the changes taking place in lobstering, a way of life along the Maine coast since the early 1800s.

He uses factory-made wire traps because he says they're lighter and "just plain fish better."

His 35-foot fiberglass boat, the Amanda Marie, is equipped with a hydraulic trap hauler to pull his traps up from the bottom, a Fathometer to track the depths at which he sets them and a special navigation system to lock in their location so he can find them in the thickest fog.

Also, he fishes more than 6 miles off the coast, trying to escape the feuding over territories among lobstermen in Casco Bay, an area so congested with fishermen competing for lobsters that it's nicknamed the "Bay of Pigs."

But, in his most significant break with tradition, Rogers is among a growing number of lobstermen who market their own catch. He sells his lobsters direct to a wholesaler to try to increase his profit by cutting out the middleman, the wharf buyer.

"Most fishermen want to go out and haul their traps and come in and get paid and go home and then get up in the morning and do it again," Rogers said. "I reached a point in my life where it didn't make sense to let somebody take the profit from my lobsters if I could market them myself."

Rogers buys lobsters from his father and two brothers and from two lobstermen who fish from skiffs in Mackerel Cove. He combines them with his own catch and stores the lobsters in strings of wooden crates--each holding about 90 pounds--off his float in the cove.

He saves them until he has enough to sell an order of 2,000 pounds or more to a wholesaler.

By marketing his own lobsters, Rogers said, he can increase the gross amount he is paid by 35 cents a pound. He even keeps a cellular telephone on board his boat in the summer, when prices often fluctuate the most, so he can arrange deals at the best price while he fishes.

He supplies bait to his family--a role traditionally filled by the wharf buyer--and built a shed to store it on the dock in front of his father's home.

Although the new equipment has made lobstering easier than in the days of his grandfather, the technological advances have also increased Rogers' overhead.

"I've got over $120,000 tied up right here just in my boat and gear," he said, "so you've got to have some good days just to pay for the gear."

Despite the problems, Rogers said he wouldn't consider giving up lobstering.

"I can write my own schedule," he said, hauling a trap over the side of the boat.

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