Jarod Bray, 34, is a matter-of-fact man. He and his father, Joe Bray, fish the waters around Matinicus Island, as both his grandfathers did before him. He began lobstering when he was 16 and slowly built up his business, buying increasingly larger boats until he was able to purchase his current 42-foot Young Brothers boat Volition. He fishes hard, staying inshore in the summer and moving offshore in the fall and winter months. Bray treats the regulations imposed on Maine lobstermen to protect North Atlantic right whales as he does his cystic fibrosis diagnosis: it’s just a fact of life.
“The whale regulations are not that bad. It’s a cost of doing business. When I overhaul my gear I look at everything, check out the red marks on the lines,” he said. When the requirement was put in place that most Maine lobstermen switch out the floating line used between traps on the bottom for sinking groundline Bray and others had to swallow that expense and that, said Bray, “cost quite a bit! But now I’m all set up so it’s not so hard.” He finds that re-marking his rope with the mandatory red marks is more of a nuisance than an expense. “I’ve spray-painted them, inserted red twine, and they always wear out. It’s just a yearly thing I have to do.”
Bray isn’t afraid to do things differently. When he was 25 he and his father set up a business based on “green” principles of lobstering. Eco-Lobster Catch promised its customers that the lobsters they purchased would be caught in an environmentally sound manner. Bray’s boat was powered with biodiesel, the gear oil was biodegradable, packaging was compostable or biodegradable and Bray made it himself.
Years later, he is still aware of the environment in which he works and the perilous state of North Atlantic right whales. “I don’t want to kill off a species. No one does. We need to figure out where these whales are travelling and when,” Bray said. He noted that Canadian agencies have made a successful effort to ensure that the whales, which now frequent the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the summer, have not become entangled in lobster or snow crab gear this year. The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans instituted mandatory temporary fishing closures when one or more right whales were sighted in the region, causing grumbling among New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island fishermen but so far also preventing any whale deaths. “I’d really like to see some data on where and when these whales are around,” Bray said. “Blanket regulations just don’t make sense.”
Bray credits his father for helping him learn the skills necessary to become a successful lobsterman yet admits that he and his father have different styles of fishing. “My dad is not super competitive. I am pretty competitive but not overboard. He taught me one thing that I took to heart: it’s not how much money you make, it’s how much money you save.”
Bray knows that his business as a lobsterman will undoubtedly change as the years go by, but it’s still one that he plans to pursue for as long as he can. The fact that he has cystic fibrosis doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm for fishing. Each day he performs vibration therapy on himself to loosen the mucus that could suffocate his lungs. “I just have to get up a little earlier in the morning to do the treatment. It’s OK for right now. Some people have it so much worse than I do,” he said.