Chuck Baker knows leather.
After more than 40 years working at two leather processing chemical companies and traveling the world on company business, Baker, 70, and his son “Scooter,” 44, a New Hampshire lobsterman, decided to venture into the lobster bait business drawing on what Chuck had in-depth knowledge about: cowhide. “My father used his connections in the leather industry to start the business,” Scooter recounted. “We get the hide from Central America where they use salt, no biocides. It’s an environmentally friendly product.”
Chuck and Scooter started out as so many businessmen do, offering the cowhide lobster bait as samples to local lobstermen. Cowhide bait is used in the New England lobster fishery because it lasts longer in the water and is resistant to sea fleas. However, in 2006, the Maine Department of Marine Resources banned the use of hide with hair remaining on it. In 2016, the Department further required that alternative baits, such as cowhide, be labeled with an ingredient list that included the chemicals used to strip the hair from the hide.
With his background in the leather industry, Chuck knew exactly what he wanted: a hairless piece of leather with a certain amount of flesh left on and no chemical treatments. “Our product is thicker than others. We worked with suppliers to make sure it’s just cowhide, salt and water,” Scooter explained.
Fishing for lobsters with cowhide isn’t for everyone, Scooter admits. “The guys that do use it swear by it. Others are still not sure,” he said. The breakthrough for the company came when Brooks Trap Mill, based in Thomaston, Maine, decided to offer Bessy Bait’s products. Sales increased. Today, the company has approximately 20 large accounts throughout Maine and Massachusetts, and many smaller customers. “We sell in five-gallon buckets and 30-gallon barrels,” Scooter said. “Lots of our customers are recreational lobstermen. They only haul on the weekends, so our bait is perfect. It lasts up to two weeks in a trap.”
Chuck stepped back from the business three years ago due to health issues, though he continues to keep the company’s books. Scooter took over the day-to-day operations.
“We are an MLA business member because we want to support the industry and to advertise our products. The MLA is a steady organization,” Scooter said.
Revenues have gone up and down year by year based on how the lobster fishery does each year, which Scooter takes with shrug. “This was a slow year. It goes in cycles,” he said. With just himself and his father as employees, he’s not worried. Bessy Bait will stay the course as a stable supplier of that which every lobsterman needs, reliable bait.