Byron's Babbles

Meaningful Learning On A Lobster Boat

This week while spending time with the family on the coast of Maine I was reminded how important, meaningful and experiential learning experience are – for both adults and young scholars alike. I had the opportunity to get us aboard a commercial lobster boat in Rockland Harbor, Maine. Yes, this was no site-seeing cruise, it was an actual experience on the boat checking, emptying, and re-baiting lobster traps. Even though we were on vacation, I always want there to be some family learning experiences. That same morning we had stopped and spent time in Brunsick, Maine at Bowdoin College learning more about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. You can click here to read my blog post about that experience entitled, Independence Day Leadership Lessons From Maine & Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

Hope, Heath, and I all love lobster, but knew nothing about how they were harvested or the industry of getting them from ocean to table. I knew a little bout their life cycle and had blogged about it in Leading Like A Lobster, but other than that I was ready to be a sponge for learning. We started off by learning that the different lobsterwomen and lobstermen have an area assigned with their special license for harvesting lobsters, and in our case, our lobsterman had the ability to put out 800 lobster traps; or lobster pots as they are often called. We also learned that each lobster boat has their own buoy colors, much like horse racing silks, to identify his or her lobster traps. We were looking for white buoys with a black stripe, and orange fin (see picture) attached to the lobster traps. We really didn’t have to look, though, the captain had the all entered in his GPS.

Lobster traps are interestingly designed tools of the trade. The first “room” the lobster enters is the “kitchen” where lobster-enticing bait is hung. Bait may be fresh or salted fish on a line or tied in a hanging bag. After the lobster enters the kitchen, it grabs a piece of bait with its claw and begins maneuvering towards an exit. It is difficult to go out the way it entered due to the design of the funnel. As the lobster continues seeking an exit, it passes through another funnel leading to the “parlor” or “bedroom” in the rear of the trap. Here, the larger lobsters become trapped.

Once a buoy is located, the trap is pulled up using a motorized pulley system. Click play and see my video I made of this process below this paragraph. If lobsters are in the trap they must be measured using a special tool. Lobsters must be 3 1/4″ from the head to the base of the body (where the tail starts). Lobsters that are big enough are thrown in the holding cooler and ones that are too small are thrown back. The lobster trap is then re-baited and sent back down to the bottom. In our case we were using Herring that our lobsterman gets from his wholesaler who buys his lobsters. These are fish that have died or do not meet the grade to make to retail. Nothing is wasted out there.

The keeper lobsters, which are usually anywhere from 1 to 1 1/2 pounds with some weighing up to 2 pounds, then have their claws bands so they do not harm the other lobsters, or us. To see the banding process, click play on the video I made of being taught how to band the claws below:

It was so awesome to be out on the water learning this business. At the time we were there the lobsters were going through ecdysis (molting). To learn about this read my post Leading Like A Lobster. We learned that those lobsters beginning the process of losing their shell to go through another growth spurt have soft shells. To see if they are hard or soft shelled you hold the lobster between your thumb and forefinger like I am doing in the picture. The hard shelled lobsters are hard as a rock. The soft shelled lobsters are soft and pliable. These soft shelled lobsters are desirable to many because the meat is much sweeter. In fact at the retail lobster places they will ask if you want soft or hard shelled lobsters. Note that the lobsters we brought home were all soft shelled. And…they were outstanding!

The lobsterman then brought his catch back to the dock after checking the traps. Our lobster tries to check about 1/3 to 1/2 of his traps every day. Many check all traps every day. The lobsters can then be sold directly to customers that come to the docks to by directly from the lobster boats (our lobsterman comes in at specific times each day, so regular customers can come and check his catch) or to wholesalers who then sell to restaurants, stores, or retail lobster outlets. Many of the wholesalers have retail outlets up and down the coast as well. The tricky part is that lobsters need to be kept alive till they are prepared. This is why lobster is expensive to buy in a restaurant or retail outlet. There is a considerable margin between buying live lobsters direct off the boat and from a retail outlet. For example, live lobsters off the boat were going for $6.00 per pound and lobster meat in the retail outlets was going for $39.99 per pound. Live lobsters at the Maine retail outlet are $15.00-25.00 per lobster. Most of the retail outlets here in Maine have live lobsters and lobster meat that has been already taken from the shell (pulled) available.

We were able to select three lobsters out of the holding cooler to bring home for our dinner. Hope steamed them perfectly, and boy were they awesome. We literally had the ocean to table experience – first hand!

As you can see, lobstering is quite the industry. We were so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend the day serving as apprentices to the business. We learned so much more by actually being immersed (no pun intended) in the business. It is so important that we find ways for our students to have these kinds of experiences. Whether through true apprenticeship programs, or through internships, or through one day field trip type experiences like we had. Experiential and hands-on learning is so much more meaningful than any other way we can learn.

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