Long Island Lobsterman Grows Up With Whale Rules

Cameron Murphy, 26, started lobstering on Long Island when he was 13. He had five traps and was sponsored by local lobsterman Tommy Marr. His father is a merchant seaman and food processing engineer and his mother is a legal aid worker. Lobstering was not part of his family tradition, although living on Long Island, where his maternal grandmother’s family has resided for four generations, is.

Long Island lobsterman Cam Murphy aboard the Blue Dolphin II. B. Thornton photo.

Murphy soon got his student license and expanded his gang of traps. His first boat was an old punt that he and his father bought from a neighbor who was using it in her yard as a flower planter. “I gave her 100 bucks for that thing and it needed a lot of work. She was happy for the 100 bucks,” Murphy laughed.
Murphy and his father spent the winter making the old boat seaworthy. A few years later, Murphy bought another punt with his savings. This boat had an outboard, a real upgrade, or so Murphy thought. “The outboard lasted about two seconds so it was another winter spent working on the boat,” he recalled.
Throughout this time Murphy also worked as a sternman for Marr and fished with David Johnson, another Long Island lobsterman, as needed. “Everyone on the island is always willing to help out the younger generations,” Murphy said. “Long is a tight-knit community. The lobstermen are upfront, they tell you what to look for, changes in temperature or where the bottom may be different. Where you would think most people would withhold information, they don’t.”
It was during the time Murphy was getting started in lobstering that the National Marine Fisheries Service instituted the sinking line rule, which required lobstermen to stop using floating line between their traps in a trawl and instead use a more expensive line that lay on the ocean bottom. The purpose of the rule was to protect North Atlantic right whales from becoming entangled in arcs of line that float between traps in the water column. “It wasn’t a huge hassle to switch over my gear because I didn’t have as much as I do now,” Murphy said. Now using sinking line is just part of what he does in order to go lobstering.
Like many Maine lobstermen, Murphy is a keen observer of the wildlife that surrounds him. He takes pride in how he operates his lobster business and would never want to cause harm to a whale. Though he’s never seen a right whale while out fishing, he’s noticed plenty of pilot whales and a few minke whales this summer. He also has noticed the water temperature in Casco Bay has changed over the years since he started fishing. Often he finds warmer-water species in his traps, like sea bass, skate and the seahorse he pulled up in a trap in September.
Murphy buys bait from and sells his catch to Casco Bay Lobster, which is owned by Cozy Harbor but is located on Long Island. “Having a place on the island to buy bait and sell to is convenient. It’s nice to not have to steam to town after fishing all day,” he said, referring to Portland.
After high school, Murphy attended Maine Maritime Academy but continued to come home on the weekends to lobster. He took a job as a marine engineer on an oil tanker after graduation, a position that takes him to places across the globe. He tries to structure his time off so he can be home in the summer and fall to fish.
Murphy became a Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) member two years ago. He wanted to join because most lobstermen on Long Island are members and he thinks that the MLA is the best place to get information about the fishery. “I appreciate being able to stay informed about what is happening while I’m out to sea during the year,” he said.
He bought his current boat, a 36-foot Crowley Beal called Blue Dolphin II, in May, and is looking forward to a long career on the water. “I like working for myself,” Murphy reflected. “Your success is more or less built on your abilities and your efforts and I like that.”

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