Growing up on Martha’s Vineyard, KD was part of a tight circle of friends, among them sometimes Hungry Native guest corespondent JHS, and their mutual friend, SR. SR now lives on Swan’s Island, Maine, an island roughly the same size as Martha’s Vineyard, but has a year-round population of only about 350 residents, which swells to about 1000 in the summer. Swan’s is reached by a six mile ferry ride that originates in Bass Harbor. Named the “Captain Henry Lee”, this ferry carries about 16 vehicles and makes five or six trips a day during the busy season.
The only real “Industry’ on Swan’s Island is lobstering, and like many residents, SR’s husband, IS, makes his living as a lobsterman. He was kind enough to bring our team out fishing one morning, and shared the ins and outs of his routine.
Lobstermen (and women) on Swan’s Island bait their traps with any number of species, including redfish, squid and pogies, but herring seems to be the favorite. Some people even use shaved, dehydrated cow hide. Lobster bait’s effectiveness tends to be inversely proportional to its pleasing aroma.
Because Swan’s Island is in a conservation zone, IS fishes roughly 450 pots, hauling maybe 250 of them on any given day. Most of the year, he fishes within the “Three Mille Line”, but occasionally heads out into federal waters, which requires a separate permit.
IS demonstrated how to properly size a lobster using a gauge to measure the carapace, and throwing back the under and over sized “bugs”.
Rubber bands are placed around the claws as the lobsters come out of the traps, mostly to keep them from harming each other, but also to make them easier to handle. Many people leave the bands in place while cooking, but IS insists on removing them, saying that the rubber leaves behind an unpleasant taste.
At the end of the day, IS unloads his catch at the Swan’s Island Fishermen’s Co-op, which also supplies bait, fuel and other amenities.
Here’s a link to a great video showing the wharf workers of the Swan’s Island Fishermen’s Co-op in action, by Swan’s Island News.
The Atlantic Rock Crab was, until recently, considered by most lobstermen to be a bait stealing nuisance. Renamed “Peekytoe” crab in 1997, they have enjoyed a surge of popularity, with many of the top restaurants in the U.S. now including them on their menus.
IS starts his crab legs in a pot with cold water seasoned with Old Bay, and then brings it to a boil, cooking them for about 30 mins.
Once they are done, he rinses the claws under cold water, which cause the meat to pull away from the shell a bit, making them easier to separate.
KD is a die hard lobster lover, but she found the flavor of the crabs to be fierce competition for her favorite crustacean.
To cook the lobsters, IS puts about an inch and a half of water in a large pot and brings it to a boil. Once the water is boiling, he adds the lobsters, cooking for about 20 minutes for soft-shelled (usually not seen outside of Maine, as they don’t ship well) and 35-40 minutes for hard shelled.
Soft shelled lobsters, also known as “shedders”, are generally regarded as having more tender meat than hard shelled, and are much easier to crack, in fact most of the time you can just do it with your bare hands. These molting lobsters usually start showing up in Maine traps around mid-June or early July, but are apearing early this year, to the surprise of many lobstermen.
It was a pleasure to be able to experience all the different aspects that go into getting shellfish from the ocean to the table, especially in such a unique setting as Swan’s Island.
Check out our other adventures in Maine as well as our articles featuring Martha’s Vineyard Bay Scallops, Squidding and Grace Church Lobster Rolls. Help support Hungry Native with AMAZON.COM, we get a very small percentage of anything you buy through this link. Here are some Maine.and Lobster.cookbooks you might enjoy. Thank you!
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