Setting moorings and pulling lobster traps off of Falmouth Foreside with Manny Kourinos, owner of Atlantic Mooring Services, and his sternman Chuck Lazaro.
The U.S.’s first, and only commercial kelp growing operation is found just off of Portland, Maine in Casco Bay. Tollef Olson, owner and founder of Ocean Approved. took me out in thick fog yesterday to visit his kelp farm, and to see how he and his employee Colleen harvest young kelp leaves for wraps. I will be going back soon to document more of the operation.
The elver fishery has gotten a lot of press lately, well in Maine at least. In recent years the price of elvers has climbed to about $2000 a pound, but that’s not why I wanted to photograph the elver fishermen. Fishing for elvers (juvenile eels) is unlike most other commercial fisheries, elvers run up the rivers from the sea at night, near the high tide. They’re attracted to light, so the fishermen all come prepared with Coleman lanterns which are held, or hung just above the waterline.
Elvers are tiny and mostly clear, and can hardly been seen even up close. I met up with Abden and April Simmons at midnight Sunday to document their nightly elver fishing ritual. To catch elvers small dip nets are affixed to long poles, and held just under the water. Some fishermen fish from the banks of the river, stretching their nets into the current just offshore. Other fishermen, like Abden and April sit on jetties or docks, and use their feet to guide the poles in the water, making figure-eights with their nets underwater to catch the passing eels. They pull the nets up every few minutes, inspect them for eels, then transfer their catch to nearby buckets. At dawn, the night’s catch is taken to the buyers. The eels end up travelling half-way around the world to Asia where they are raised to adulthood for human consumption.
Throughout the season, they sit in the cold, dark night silently swishing their nets for hours on end. In the rain and snow, under the stars and northern lights, silently pushing the net poles back and forth, back and forth with their feet, hoping.
Lights of fishermen on the riverbank upstream.
I was to meet up with Jim Buxton to accompany him on a scallop diving trip last Monday, only two days before the end of the scallop season in Maine. It is still winter, and his boat cut through the skim ice on the harbor as he pulled up to the dock at South Port Marina to get me. Don’t let anyone tell you that salt-water doesn’t freeze.
We then headed over to Portland to pick up another diver, Paul Fischer. They had no ‘tender’ on board (someone to steer the boat while the divers are underwater), so they took turns throughout the day diving 30-50 feet deep to scour the sandy bottom for scallops. On this day, Paul and Jim were greeted in the depths below by a loon and a minke whale respectively, something that normally never happens they say. I must have brought good luck.
Personally, I love scallops. I had no idea how they were harvested, and I now hold an amazing amount of respect for those who choose to dive deep in the dead of winter to pull the tasty morsels to the surface.
Scallop on the sea floor, image by Jim Buxton
Maine shrimp have long been a staple catch and reliable form of winter income for Maine’s fishermen. This year, Maine’s shrimp fishermen are facing a shortened season, and low-catch quotas due to a shortage of Maine shrimp. Captain Proctor Wells of Phippsburg, Maine allowed me to come along to photograph how these tasty little crustaceans are caught. It’s a long process, started well before dawn, on cold winter mornings, and the day often doesn’t end until after sunset. Due to the fishing restrictions put in place early in the 2013 season the fishermen are only allowed to shrimp on Mondays and Wednesdays. Despite rain, howling winds, and high seas they head to sea to drop their nets and hope for a decent catch and good prices. Proctor estimated that about half the typical fleet didn’t even try to get out on the water this year due to the low imposed quotas, it’s just not worth it to get the boats and gear ready. Next year there is talk that there might not even be a shrimp season at all.