Building a better lobster trap

First published in Landings, September, 2016

Cundy’s Harbor lobsterman Andy Pennell had an idea. He was disturbed by the number of swimmeret legs and other body parts that were torn from his lobsters when the trap was on his boat’s rail. And he was sick and tired of fighting with lobsters that were grabbing at the trap when he wanted to put them in the banding box. There had to be a better way.

Stephen Brooks and a modified trap. M.Waterman photo.

Stephen Brooks and a modified trap. M.Waterman photo.

So Pennell decided to attach fine- gauge shrimp mesh netting on the floor of his lobster trap’s parlor. “They keep telling us that we have to take better care of our lobsters,” Pennell said. “I had tried the claw saver bot- tom [made by Riverdale Mills] but it made the trap heavier and it didn’t go down well.” So Pennell modified one trap with the shrimp mesh and set it in about 140 feet of water.

“I’ve fished about three weeks with that one and it’s working fine,” Pennell said in mid-August. “In fact, I just put five more over in deeper water.” Pennell said that the traps go through the water perfectly well, a fact that he attributes to the fineness of the mesh. He’s also discovered that the lobsters are much easier to take out of the trap when hauled. “Lobsters don’t like to be on a hard surface. You see that when you put them in the band box, they just bounce around at each other. You put them on a softer surface, they calm down quicker,” he said.

Stephen Brooks, an owner of Brooks Trap Mill in Thomaston, found Pennell’s idea interesting. “I hear from fishermen all the time that claws get snapped off, tails broken, all sorts of damage,” he said. “They don’t want it but it happens.” He decided to attach the same mesh material used to make trap heads to the floor of the parlor area using stainless hog rings. The mesh, when set on top of the vinyl coated metal squares of the trap, creates smaller openings, preventing swimmerets and other append- ages from poking through. “They just don’t grab on [to the mesh] like they do to the trap wire,” Brooks said.

Stephen Brooks used a head mesh on the parlor floor, which makes it harder for lobster limbs to drop through the trap. M.Waterman Photo.

Stephen Brooks used a head mesh on the parlor floor, which makes it harder for lobster limbs to drop through the trap. M.Waterman Photo.

Traps built at the facility typically come in 21-inch, 22.5-inch and 24- inch widths, so the cost for the mesh would be between 60 and 90 cents per trap, depending on width, Brooks said. “It would take a lobsterman about five minutes to do it himself,” he added. Brooks, who, with his siblings, runs the 60-year-old trap manufacturing business, sees this adaptation as just another way Maine lobster- men are taking care of the fishery.

“Lobstermen have talked about the problem for years now. If this change takes hold, it will be a great thing for the lobstermen and for the lobsters!”

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September 2016