Fishing boats are loaded with traps for the lobster season.

The season is almost over. Have you had your feed of Atlantic Canada’s best delicacy or are you one of the unfortunate few who have a problem eating shellfish?

The season that began on the first of May on the Northumberland Strait and the west coast of Cape Breton will end in a few days. About the middle of April, the fishermen on our coasts begin to eye the Gulf of St. Lawrence anxiously with hope that the “big ice” is finally gone for good.

Some springs it hangs around, disappearing and re-appearing relentlessly. Sometimes the start of the season has to be postponed because of its presence.

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Once the signal is given the boats are loaded with baited traps and steam out to traditional good spots on the coastline where the fishermen have probably been setting year after year.

The American Lobster is found along the east coast of North America, all the way from Labrador to the Carolinas. They are more abundant off the coast of Maine, southwest Nova Scotia, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence around the Maritime provinces. They prefer rocky habitats where they can find protective shelter and food. Their food source varies from crabs, mussels, sea urchins, and starfish, to carrion. Lobsters in some of the warmer coastal waters grow quickly and may even molt (shed their shells) twice in a season.

Lobsters in deeper colder waters grow slower. I remember swimming at Chimney Corner Beach as a youngster and catching small lobsters with very soft shells that came in too close to the shore. It was molting season for them. The lobster has a jointed external shell with two large claws, the crusher and pincer claws. Four pairs of walking legs and a series of swimmerets make up the main appendages of the body.

It is only too ready to demonstrate the power of the two larger claws to the unwary individual who tries to pick it up for a closer look. I thought I had made an astonishing discovery one day on the wharf at Finlay Point when I noticed that the larger crusher claw was on the left side of the lobster (I guess most are on the right side). I was soon chided by one of the fishermen. “What’s wrong with you? Haven’t you ever seen a left-handed lobster?”

Lobsters haven’t always been the delicacy of our tables that they are now. Years ago, they were almost regarded as trash fish and were often ploughed into the fields for fertilizer. Many friends whose fathers were fishermen back in the good old days have told stories that they would hide their lunches in school for fear that their schoolmates would see them eating lobster sandwiches. That was a sign that they were poor. But weren’t we all! My, how times have changed.

However, in the late 1800’s lobster canneries sprung up along the western shore of Cape Breton, but I’m sure the market was one of an export market. Nowadays, lobsters are sold in two sizes for the consumer, canners (smaller ones) and markets. Only about 10 per cent of the catch is consumed in Canada while the bulk of the exports go to the USA, the European countries, and beyond. Some of the catch is sold as fresh-cooked, frozen, or canned.

In recent years we have seen many changes occurring in the inshore fishery of our coast and that of the shores of the other Atlantic provinces. The number of licenses and quotas have been reduced, minimum sizes of the species caught have increased, improvements in the quality of landing and processing of the fish, trap limits, and a season control have all been conservation measures brought about to sustain the fishery.

As with any renewable industry or resource it is of the utmost importance to try to maintain a sustainable one, that is, not to harvest more that the resource can reproduce on a regular basis.

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Musician and freelance columnist Wally Ellison lives in Inverness County