You might say that bait runs in the family. Ben Durkee, 35, grew up helping his father, Manford Durkee, in the family’s lobster bait business in Jonesport. Durkee Lobster Bait has been in operation since forever, according to Ben. “He started it before I was born,” Durkee said, “and I’m working with him still.”
But last year Durkee struck out on his own, starting a second bait business called Bring It Inc. “It’s a joke I had with my niece and nephew when they were real young,” Durkee said, declining to elaborate. Together the two companies handle every variety of bait sought by lobstermen in the region.
Herring has always been the mainstay for lobstermen along the Downeast coast. Durkee and his father have managed to keep the herring supply going for their customers, despite a sharp reduction in the herring quota in recent years and a rise in wholesale prices. “We have good sources. They are reliable. We don’t jump around,” Durkee explained.
He acknowledged that the bait business has changed a lot in the past decade or so. As herring became more restricted, Durkee had to broaden his offerings of other baits. “We get our bait from everywhere now. There’s a lot of demand for hard bait. We are starting to sell pig hide this year. Everybody wants to try something different,” he said. Herring still remains a staple, but lobstermen in his area are trying to stretch out every bit of the expensive fish, using other species to supplement.
The two companies sell throughout the region. This year Durkee plans to deliver pig hide anywhere along the coast, selling it by Xactics rather than buckets or crates. “The Xactics are more convenient. The guys can get it right on the dock. You sell it in buckets, the buckets come back but not the covers. There’s a lot of those covers floating around out there,” he said.
Durkee signed up to be a business member of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) just this spring. “I’ve known [MLA board member] Bobby Ingalls all my life,” he explained. “He said I should be a member.” The company not only became a member but Durkee also has made a generous donation to the MLA’s Legal Defense Fund and donated bait for the June online Facebook auction.
“This is a scary time. Lobstermen are the targets now. If the virus wasn’t bad enough, now we have a judge and Max Strahan coming after us. If the fishery is shut down it will be bad for everyone,” he said. “Every little bit helps.”