Eventually, however, the offshore fishermen abandoned the trawling techniques, which were truly effective only on smooth ocean bottoms. Once they went into the caves, their hauls increased. “You have to remember that was a virgin fishery out there,”said Hughes. “I suspect that they may wind up with the same problems as the inshore people later on.”
Nevertheless, many inshore lobstermen are concerned that the offshore catches may be hurting their profits. “I agree with a lot of people,”said a Maine lobsterman, “that these people are taking our breeding stock and that you won’t see any more of the big lobsters.”
Hughes’s research at the lobster hatchery tends to refute such theories. “We estimated that the spawn would have to be carried inshore within a month, or before they became heavy enough to sink to the bottom,”he says. “By estimating the currents in the Gulf of Maine, we found that there wouldn’t be enough time for them to substantially affect the inshore fishery. As far as we can tell, the inshore and offshore fisheries contain different populations of the same species.”
Frank Sampuco tended to side with Hughes as the Maureen busted through a strip of water discolored by a water-treatment plant. The last string has produced the star of the day, a large lobster with one claw. “That’s a dinner,”said Andrew, inserting pegs to jam the animals claws shut. “We get some big ones inshore.”Frank said. “It’s a pretty big ocean, after all.”
The record for lobsters, by the way, is 43 pounds, making it undoubtedly three generations’One That Got Away until its luck ran out.
* * *
It was noon when the Maureen slid into another channel, gliding toward the Yankee Lobster Company. The Sampucos were coming in early because Andrew had to graduate from Andover High School that day, so they had picked up 11 lines of traps instead of the usual 15. Someone suggested that Andrew could supply whatever graduation party erupted with lobster dinners. “Not me,”he answered, “you could go broke.”
The Maureen tied up next to an algae-dragging board. It had not been a good day, which surprised absolutely no one. “This isn’t like most jobs,”Frank said. “You can’t just show up and say, ‘Well, I’ll make $30 today.’u8221 The catch was sent up the ladder. It was still early in the year, and one lobster had gone and molted in the barrel.
* * *
Right about the time that the Maureen had pushed off from the dock, John Hughes was on his way to work, driving down one of those Martha’s Vineyard town roads that always give the impression that the universe was designed and created -- and is ultimately maintained -- by the folks at Lionel.
Hughes is the world’s leading expert in the science of growing lobsters, which he has been doing in the name of our Commonwealth since 1959. His reputation has grown almost as fast as his crustaceans. Marlon Brando once employed him as an adviser on how to aqua-farm the waters around Brando’s private atoll.
“Aquaculture has got to come about as the world’s demand for protein increases,”Hughes says. “And lobsters have been more successful than anything else. A lot of entrepreneurs fleeced people with plans for pompano and fish like that. But lobsters work. We’ve proved it.”