Sampuco gunned the Maureen, or at least as much as the 17-year-old boat would allow itself to be gunned. The traps, re-baited and arranged so that each one would pull the next into the sea, thumped off the fantail, landing in the boat’s wake. The wash came splashing through the slats until the traps sank sideways again.
“I don’t know about increasing the limit,”Sampuco said. “It would cost us maybe 15 percent of our catch. I wouldn’t mind seeing it if we could be guaranteed that the price would stay the same.”In an effort to allay such fears, the contemplated increase would be enacted in increments of one-sixteenth of an inch per year.
The last trap went off, its law-mandated metal escape vent shining. The vent enables small lobsters to escape. “That’s one for the biologists right there,”Sampuco said. “Your traps come up cleaner. That was using the old noodle, boy.”
Around the third or fourth string of traps of the day, Sampuco found another fisherman’s line fouled with his. With some friends in the Mildred V bobbing off the starboard bow, Sampuco cut the other line loose.
“Crowded?”a friend called to him.
“What the hell are we going to do when they all get out here?”Sampuco answered.
The possibility that a relatively small area of the lobster fishery is being overfished is another factor behind the drive to standardize local regulations. “The full-time fishermen are great people,”Hughes says. “But the part-time people, the ones who are only interested in making extra money, they’re the bastards.”
“You aren’t even seeing half as many people as will be out here,”Sampuco says, taking in all of Quincy Bay with his hand. “Some of the guys can fool you. They’ll put gasoline rags in the traps. The lobsters like the fumes. But you’ll taste it later; I’ll tell you that.”
* * *
The concern over crowded fisheries has caused the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association to propose a new licensing scheme to the Division of Marine Fisheries. “Over the last five years,”says the Division’s Chris Kennedy, “the fishermen have gotten more worried. There have been more fishermen and more gear. Now, we give them the month of December to renew their $100 licensing requirement. We also hold out 130 licenses for hardship cases. The licenses we don’t find renewed are opened up to anyone who wants to go in on the computer lottery in February for them.”
The Division has been getting many more applicants for both the hardship and unrenewed licenses than were sufficient. “So the association comes up to us and says, ‘Look, why don’t you just add 100 licenses every year without any regard to who renews?’That way, eventually, you’ll have more licenses than there are fishermen.’u8221 Kennedy concedes, however, that this “is hardly a conservation measure.”
Another concern to inshore fishermen has been the proliferation of the offshore (as opposed to inshore) lobster fisheries on the edges of the continental shelf. “After World War II,”says John Hughes, who participated in a federal study of the offshore lobster fishery, “you had people using trawling to come up with these huge amounts of lobsters. They’d stay out eight or nine days and come back with 25,000 pounds of lobsters.”