I met Berkley the day after I retired and became a full-time resident of Walpole.
We were introduced by my neighbor Chester, who knew I still wanted to be active at something and Berkley needed a sternman on his lobster boat.
I was no stranger to physical work and have always enjoyed being out-of-doors.
We hit it off well and I began immediately. Berk was a little behind in preparation, so my first introduction to commercial lobstering was the cleaning and sorting of traps, checking the condition and length of lines, replacing rotten wood runners, and clipping degradable hog rings to the escape vents (in case of trap loss, the ring eventually dissolves and any full-size lobsters in the trap are freed). Also, a current Maine Department of Marine Resources plastic trap tag is fastened.
Plastic name plates are also a good idea, but not required. You have a chance of recovery by other fishermen.
Most everyone repaints their buoys each year, but since it was now late May, he had already accomplished that endeavor.
Little did I realize how much I would learn to despise that part of the operation in the coming years.
We started to set traps in mid-June, around 400 total. He must have determined that I was an asset to the boat, because within the first couple of years, he purchased enough traps to work up to the Zone E limit of 600.
Other zones in Maine have a maximum of 800, but the lobstermen in this zone decided to keep it lower a few years before I showed up.
I had a family license for a few years. This is for five traps, which I hauled by hand, so now that we were working with 600, the learning curve took a giant leap forward.
It was at this time that I decided to participate in the apprentice program for a commercial license, which took two years of keeping log books (each page signed by Berkley and each book examined and signed by Dan White, at the time a fairly new Maine Marine Patrol officer).
After over 200 pages, it was on to DMR headquarters in Augusta.
A coordinator went through the books page by page, asked me a lot of questions, and then put me on the “list.” At the time, two licenses had to be retired for one to be issued. It took another year of waiting for the coveted letter to arrive.
Timewise, I just made it, as it now can take many years on the waitlist to receive a license. Five licenses are now required to be retired for one to be awarded.
I was one of the oldest apprentices in the program, as well as one of the oldest to start commercial lobstering.
Although I can’t claim to be a rousing success story, I do have my own small lobster boat, 120 traps, and I am a member of the South Bristol Fisherman’s Co-op, grateful for being voted in. It is so important to be able to procure bait and sell your lobsters.
Overall it has been a grand experience: meeting and being befriended by hardworking folks, learning more than I ever could otherwise about the Damariscotta estuary, and coming as close as possible for someone from away to being a member of the local culture.