Good Food

07/17/2012

Learning from Lobsters in Lamoine

Crabs invading? Eat them!

Slowly I seem to be getting the hang of catching lobsters. At first I used too little bait and only caught crabs. These are the crabs locally known as “peeky toes”, aka rock crabs. After pulling traps and finding only crabs I decided, what the heck, why not eat them?  I collected only the largest and managed to get a few. After boiling, and then an hour of picking the meat out, my six peeky toes yielded 1/2 pound! A lot of work but the crab meat was awesome. I started not feeling so bad about not catching lobsters. On this haul I spontaneously decided to do a little mackerel fishing. I caught one fish and decided to see if the mackerel would do a better job of attracting lobsters. I pulled up a trap I had baited and dropped less than an hour before and there were already 5 crabs in it! The crabs at the bottom of Frenchman Bay are countless and ravenous. They seem to be the main competition for lobsters for bait.

The other important part of this puzzle is that lobsters are mostly nocturnal, so they’re sleeping or chilling out while crabs are actively eating their food. By the time the lobsters are feeling peckish, the crabs have finished off all but the heads and bones. No wonder the lobsters stay away from my traps! The remedy is to put out more food so that there’s enough left for lobsters after nightfall. This means at least one herring in the parlor and two or more in the kitchen (lobster traps are divided into two halves, the parlor which is easy to enter and exit, and the kitchen which leads off from the parlor and is more challenging to enter—and exit). In addition, I have started to leave mostly-eaten bait bags behind so that it will still contribute to the smell of food. This seems to have done the trick, even to the point that the lobsters move in in groups and chase out the crabs. Now we’re talking! The other possible explanation is that the crabs realized I was starting to eat them and decided to leave my traps alone…..not likely.

Success!

Another approach would be to bait my traps at night. So far I have been pulling traps in the mornings so that I can avoid the wind which appears like clockwork as the sun heats the land. The wind in the evenings is less predictable. Still, I may try this.

Today I took my daughter out and she was armed with a camera. The fog was enough to make the distant shore blend into the sea and sky. We had significant numbers of lobsters, but ultimately only two keepers. The commercial lobster fishers are, according to rumor, on “strike” (not going out) so that the price will get higher. We therefore had the bay to ourselves.  It was a great time.

Filed under Acadia, Good Food, Out on the water by on . 4 Comments.

07/14/2012

A Real Zero-Carbon Maine Lobsterman

Last week I wrote an article predicting I would be the only lobster operation in Maine which was (or will be, when I get my roof panels) operating with a zero-carbon boat. I was premature! Matinicus Island fisherman Nat Hussey beat me to the punch, he’s the real deal, fishing 150 traps. The video below tells the story:

From the Penobscot Marine Museum website, http://www.penobscotmarinemuseum.org. Drawing by Thomas Bernardi.

His approach is different in several ways from mine. First, he started off thinking his craft would be mostly  rowed, so he had a peapod built. The Matinicus peapod is a classic rowing craft and has no resemblance to the modern lobster boat. Nat later added electric propulsion and a trap winch. My boat is more inspired by the modern Maine lobster boat, and power was integrated from the start. I would be hard pressed to row my boat to all my traps, even though I only have 5. My plan was as off-the-wall as Nat’s was traditional. He is intent on recreating the old lobstering ways while I’m thinking high tech. Still, our results are similar: we both get lobsters off the bottom and bring them home without diesel fumes!

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07/08/2012

Electric Lobstering in Lamoine, Maine

Almost two years ago I announced my plan to obtain my recreational lobstering license and build a boat to go with it. I had the audacious plan to power this lobster boat with electricity using a built-in battery bank.  I envisioned the batteries to be charged by solar energy, making it possibly the first zero-carbon lobstering craft in Maine (with the exception of rowed or sailed craft, which I have never seen used for hauling traps).  I am about 2/3 of the way to my goal. I have the license, the traps, the bait, the boat, but not the photovoltaic panels to complete the package. Last winter I built the canopy on which to mount the panels, but because I wanted to see how stable the boat was before adding more weight on the roof, I stopped for the year.

About mid June I relaunched Eleccentricity and she now floats at her mooring in front of SeaCat’s Rest. Around her float five brightly painted buoys marking the locations of my traps. The roof does change the handling characteristics of the boat, and not for the better, but with the advantage of a hauling boom, shade and shelter from rain the trade-off is acceptable. Now if only I could find really light weight panels…

I had imagined, based on the reports heard from other five-trap people, that I would be hauling in huge amounts of lobsters. I have not had that much success. Some claim an average of one lobster per trap. I have been seeing about 1-1/2 lobster per five traps, making the whole enterprise rather hard to justify. I spend an hour and a half putting bait into bags, rowing out to the boat, pulling traps and cleaning old bait bags for about ten dollars worth of lobsters. Obviously, I’m doing something wrong. I have gained a new respect for the hard work of commercial lobster fishers!

My friends remind me, “Hey, you’re catching lobsters. How cool is that?” They’re right of course. To pull tasty seafood from one’s front yard is rather cool. Let’s not forget the clams and mussels on the way to the lobsters. So all I need to do is to keep experimenting: try different bait, different trap locations, different hauling intervals. I will watch and learn from the pros. As for my limited haul, I am planning to build a partially submerged crate for storing live lobsters to allow the accumulation of enough to feed more than one or two people. I’m also planning on fishing for mackerel to see if it is a better bait.

The peak of the lobster season is still ahead. So far there has been a “glut” (not my word) of soft shell or shedder lobsters on the market. One newspaper article claimed the price is below that of bologna. Hmmm. Hopefully, more of them will find their way into my traps. Lobsters, not bologna.

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04/07/2012

Red Lobster’s “Maine Lobster”…NOT!

Dear MLA,

I just wanted to voice a concern about an advertisement of Maine Lobster. I again just saw the Red Lobster commercial depicting them as selling Maine lobster. The most recent commercial even portrays Maine lobstermen on it.

I have boycotted this business for the past few years after eating at two separate Red Lobsters while on vacation in Florida because every lobster I saw there had “product of Canada” bands on the claws…..

Mike Drake

Cuddy’s Harbor

Reprinted in shortened form from the Maine Lobstermen’s Association newsletter, April 2012.

Another letter in the same issue is from Mainers who took a Carnival cruise out of Florida and were served “Maine lobsters” without claws! Clawless lobster species are from warmer waters and could be a number of other lobster species, but not Homarus americanus, our north American lobster. Why should we care about whether a lobster is from Maine or not?

First, let’s hear from Red Lobster’s parent company, Darden Corporation:

….we are also the largest buyer and promoter of North American lobster in the world.In order to meet our annual usage needs, we must source North American lobster from both the United States and Canada. The term “Maine lobster” is commonly used interchangeably with North American lobster and Atlantic lobster. The USFDA also refers to the Homarus americanus species as “Maine Lobster”. Given that “Maine Lobster” is the most recognized and accepted term among consumers, that is the term we use.

Rich Jeffers

Directer of Communications

Darden Corporation, Orlando, FL

Also reprinted in shortened form from the Maine Lobstermen’s Association newsletter, April 2012.

The industrious journalists at MLA did some research and found Mr. Jeffer’s claim to be wanting; the FDA uses the word “lobster” as the “Acceptable Market Name” and “American lobster” as the Scientific common name. In fact, according to the FDA you can legally use the word “lobster” to describe Homarus gammarus, the European lobster. The word “Maine” was not mentioned anywhere. When Melissa Waterman from MLA wrote back to Mr. Jeffers with these observations, she got no response by press time.

So why should we care about this? After all, New Brunswick lobster is every bit as good as Maine lobster…probably. Why then would Red Lobster find it necessary to attach the Maine brand to Canadian lobster? Why would Carnival try to pass off spiny lobster as Homarus americanus? Could it be our reputation for clean cool waters? Our remarkable sustainable fishery? Or maybe they just want to evoke happy memories of that last time you came to Maine. I’m not advocating a boycott of anyone, no one wants a collapse of the lobster market, but a few words to the manager of your favorite lobster restaurant might be in order.

Excuse me, I need to go dig in my garden for a few Idaho potatoes and stop in my greenhouse to water my Florida oranges and prune my Georgia peach tree.

Filed under Acadia, Good Food, Out on the water, Restaurants by on . 8 Comments.

03/12/2012

Maple Syrup from Lamoine, ME

No, it doesn't taste salty because it's near the ocean!

I like to tap our maple trees when I have the time. This year I scaled back to four trees so I wouldn’t have to handle so much sap. Our trees are not sugar maple (Acer saccharum) but red maple (Acer rubrum), considered the second most desirable maple species for syrup. The taste of the syrup is a little different, less “mapley” but still good.

Maple syrup is expensive because its production requires so much fuel. A gallon of syrup comes from 40 gallons of sap, and all that extra water has to be boiled away. This boiling traditionally happens in a sugar shack over a wood fire. Indoor boiling is avoided due to the volume of moisture evolved. The boiling vessel is a large shallow pan with baffles so that sap entering at one end moves slowly through the maze-like pan to where it emerges with most of its water removed. That was the old way. Nowadays boiling is reduced by using reverse osmosis or applying a vacuum by the big producers. They also tap their trees using tubing instead of buckets and applying vacuum to suck the sap out of the trees.

My method is to boil the sap on the kitchen stove with the vent hood going full blast, which is another reason to keep my production low. Each day I dump another four gallons of sap into the pot and boil all day until the level is around 1/2 gallon. With each day of boiling the amount remaining gets sweeter. The smell is intoxicating, and is the real reason I like the process. The memory of a smell is especially evocative.

Today the weather is amazing, with temperatures approaching 60°F, light wind and full sun. The sap is dripping rapidly and I have to assume we are in peak season. The first buckets started appearing on Lamoine’s trees about two weeks ago when we had a warm spell. The next week or so was colder and the flow stopped. The conventional wisdom is that freezing nights need to be followed by warm days, but the warm days can’t just be in the mid 30′s, good flow seems to require days in the high 40′s or more.

Red maple is the first to flower, and the swelling of the buds leading up to that event changes the quality of the sap for the worse, so red maple must be tapped early and ended before the flavor gets bad. With any luck I’ll have a pint or two of syrup for the rest of the year. Good thing we don’t eat a lot of pancakes.

Maine Maple Sunday will be on March 25 this year. This is the day when the public is invited to drop in on any of the many Maine maple syrup producers. Free samples are offered and the process is explained. More info here. Locally, organic farmer Chuck Weber produces enough syrup to offer quarts for sale until it’s gone. If you stay at SeaCat’s Rest, ask me to connect you with Chuck.

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03/02/2012

Free Lobster Traps

One of the nice things about living in Maine is that you can often get given stuff for free just by asking. This predates craigslist by several hundred years and is still going strong. All you need to do is be in contact with the right people and be willing to trade work or favors in return when needed. In most cases, the person to be in contact with is not necessarily the owner of what you need, rather the town extrovert, the person who likes to talk and talks to a lot of people, usually in the course of business or volunteer work.  Just mention, “I need some good used lobster traps,” and for a favor, a bottle of wine or the promise of a few lobsters next summer (and the required few months of waiting while your request makes the rounds) you will hit paydirt.

I hit paydirt yesterday when my friend Chuck called to say he negotiated a deal for me. These traps look like they’ve been barely used and if I were to go out and buy new ones, they’d be close to $100 each. They even come with buoys and line. Count me one step closer to pulling in dozens of lobster dinners this summer! In addition, they lend a certain Downeast ambiance to my yard in the off season.

I’ve been reassured by several people that my gear will not be molested by other fishers, which is a big relief. Apparently a local state cop also puts out traps, and in an incident involving underwater cameras, the sole bad boy was caught and will not be re-offending. This is coupled with the growing awareness that traps are lobster feeding stations and more traps means more lobsters. Undersized lobsters come and go for free meals and notched or egg-bearing females and all under- or over-sized lobsters are let go when traps are hauled.

This means I need bait. At least two pounds per pound of legal lobster, at least according to what I’ve heard. Currently in the Maine Legislature there is a bill which will outlaw any bait which “is not part of the lobster’s natural diet”. This limits my bait choices to over-fished herring, which is the usual commercial bait, or whatever I can catch myself. Herring as bait is not willingly sold to 5-trap people like me, so if this bill passes I may be opening tins of tuna or frantically fishing for mackerel. Whatever happens, I’m one step closer now!

Filed under Good Food, Out on the water, Quality of life by on . 3 Comments.

01/27/2012

Lobster License!!

Amelia made this for Christmas 2010

Get Ready Lobsters, ‘Cause Here I Come

(apologies to Smokey Robinson)

I never met a clam who makes me feel the way that you do. (You’re alright)

Whenever I’m asked what makes my meals real, I say crustaceans do. (They’re outta sight)

So, fee-fi-fo-fum
Look out lobsters, ’cause here I come.

And I’m bringing you some fish that smell.

So get ready, so get ready.

You’re gonna love it in my wire hotel.

So get ready, so get ready ’cause here I come.

(Get ready ’cause here I come) I’m on my way. (Get ready ’cause here I come)

If you wanna play hide and seek with me, let me remind you (It’s alright) The meal is free if you’re too big or small, I just release you (It’s outta sight)

So, Fiddley-dee, Fiddley-dum Look out lobsters, ’cause here I come.

I’m bringing you a life with no risk.

So get ready, so get ready.

I’ll make your friends into a lobster bisque.

So get ready, so get ready ’cause here I come.

(Get ready ’cause here I come) I’m on my way. (Get ready ’cause here I come) (Get ready)

[Instrumental]

If all my friends should want you too, I’ll understand it. (Be alright)

I hope to trap enough for them, the way I planned it. (Be outta sight)

So twiddley-dee, twiddley-dum Look out lobsters, ’cause here I come.

And if you’re a lady that’s just full of roe.

So get ready, so get ready.

I’ll notch your flipper and just let you go.

So get ready, so get ready ’cause here I come.
(Get ready ’cause here I come) I’m on my way. (Get ready ’cause here I come) (Get ready ’cause here I come) (Get ready)

Filed under Acadia, Good Food, Out on the water by on . 6 Comments.

11/26/2011

Mushrooming in Lamoine, ME

The morel, from wikipedia

This fall like most we attended the Common Ground Fair in Unity. While there, we listened to a talk by Greg Marley, our local (Rockland, ME) mycologist (mushroom expert), mycophile (mushroom lover) and mycophagist (mushroom eater). His talk was meant to put an end to mycophobia.

Marley sees the world as divided into the mycophobic (like here and England) and the mycophillic (just about everywhere else). He tells us our society has an irrational fear of fungus, but then points out how mushroom poisonings in the mycophillic world number into the hundreds per year. The one thing to remember, he says, is to focus on edible and medicinal species which are not at all similar to poisonous ones. This means avoiding LBMs (little brown mushrooms) which are notoriously difficult to key out. Also, keeping a checklist of the traits of the most toxic

The death cap from wikipedia

‘shrooms is a good practice. The most toxic genus (the last stop before individual species) is by far, Amanita. One typical cap of Amanita phalloides, the death cap, can kill 5 people and will do so slowly over a week or so. Saving the life of the victim often involves a liver transplant. Amanitas have a white spore print, white gills which are free from the stem, a ring around the stem (an annulus) and a swollen base (a volva), as if it came out of an egg. The death cap is rare in Maine but other Amanitas, including equally toxic ones, are plentiful.

Now, are we ready for the edibles? Feeling uncertain? Good! Identifying edible fungus is best first done with an old hand. Someone who not only knows how to identify them, but where they are likely to grow. When I was a kid that guy was Smitty, a retired mail carrier and big band musician who lived

Shaggy Mane, from Sisyphus. A little past its prime.

across the street. Every May he and his wife Louise would take me into the woods and we would look for morels. This was northern Michigan, where morel hunting is a favorite pastime. The big benefit of morels, besides their flavor, is the fact that they look like sponges on a stalk and so can’t be mistaken for anything poisonous (actually, there’s one, but it’s easy to tell apart and it’s not as deadly as a death cap).

When I moved to Maine I had to leave morels behind. They do grow here occasionally, but you can’t gather enough for a meal, just the odd one. So after years of feeling sorry for myself I ended up listening to Greg Marley and realizing all I had to do was to substitute local edible mushrooms for the ones I miss. Greg presented the “fool-proof four” mushrooms for Maine. They are the morel, puffball, hen-of-the-woods, and shaggy mane. But he said these four are from

Hen of the woods, from AMG

another mycologist and the morels here are scarce. He also pointed out that the puffballs, while an easy target, are not the most choice. He advocated three more which may be more appropriate for Maine, the chanterelle, the sulphur shelf and the king bolete. I am looking forward to finding all these gems. I already came across a nice stand of shaggy manes, and I had a great meal.

There’s much more to getting started in wild mushrooming that looking at a few pictures and

Sulphur shelf, from wikipedia

warming up the frying pan. An intermediate step is to start an excel spreadsheet of all the specimens you find. Each row corresponds to the found fungus with columns for date, location (GPS is good!), habitat, link to photo, spore color, best guess (genus, species, common name) and notes. This will get you practice in identification, a feel for the features of different families and genera, and will give you a chance for a return visit next year. You need an up-to-date field guide. Mine is old and fails to reflect all the name changes that have occurred in the last 30

Chanterelles, from wikipedia

years.

Mycology is very much an evolving field, with genetic data starting to turn the old classification system on its head. Two  on-line resources to use are mushroomexpert.com and Europe’s Roger’s Mushrooms. Don’t do a google search for a picture of a certain species without realizing you will get pictures of misidentified mushrooms–stick with the above sources or a good field guide. Stay in touch with other mushroom hunters like Ari Rockland-Miller and his blog themushroomforager.com to see what’s popping up in the area.

Greg Marley’s book, Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares: The Love, Lore, and Mystique of Mushrooms is available in the usual places and is a great tour through the fungal world (did you know flying squirrels eat truffles?). Greg wrote in my copy, “Hope this gets you out into the mushrooms!” It did!

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11/12/2011

The Fishing News

One of the sore points of our beautiful state of Maine has been the collapse of the ground fishing industry. This has been even worse in Newfoundland, where the human population had dropped from its peak in 1991 at 568,475 to 505,469 in 2006, a 9% drop. A neighbor recently bought a house in a fishing village there for $1. While the trend may be finally reversing due to new mines and oil exploration, here in Maine there’s new hope for groundfishing.

from the Portland Fish Exchange website, http://www.pfex.org

First, a definition. Groundfishing refers to fish with fins, not lobsters, shrimp or shellfish, caught in nets.  Here in the northeast these are mostly haddock, cod, hake and pollock. The resource collapsed due to overfishing. Blame for this situation varies depending on who you ask; fishers, the government, foreign factory ships, healthy eating trends or homeowners with leaky septic systems, take your pick. In a very long and detailed article in Maine Coastal News Jane Lubchenco (see below for her title, it’s a whopper)* writes that the new fish management scheme is resulting in a turn-around. Previously, implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens  Act (the federal law enacted to manage fish stocks) focused on limiting days at sea and landing limits. This was not embraced by the fishing industry, as it resulted in fishing during bad weather and dumping lots of by-catch. Now, the new way of rebuilding our fish stocks involves participation of the fishers themselves. In an earlier article, we explored how Maine’s lobster industry has successfully worked with science and government to maintain health, now it seems the government is more willing to trust the groundfishing industry to self-manage.

from the Portland Fish Exchange website, http://www.pfex.org

Instead of limiting days-at-sea, the new scheme is called “sector management”. The sectors are actually volunteer groups of fishers in given areas which are charged with meeting certain catch limits. How they do it is up to them. Like farming, each fisher is limited by his territory and responsible for its productivity.  The results are encouraging. Dr. Lubchenco writes,

We are finally on track to end overfishing. For the first time ever, we have catch limits and accountability measures in place and clear ability to track progress. In 2010 fishermen fished within the limits for 18 of the 20 stocks. This is excellent news.

Stocks are being rebuilt and therefore catch limits are up….in the 2011 fishing year catches have gone up for 12 of the 20 groundfish stocks…

Atlantic Cod from http://www.nero.noaa.gov

Dr. Lubchenco goes on to praise the new cooperative system for resulting in more selective fishing and “fishing smarter” to avoid the taking of bycatch of weaker stocks.

While early signs are encouraging she warns that there are many tweaks to the system which may be required. Better data collection, more nimble reaction to stock levels and more trust building between government, science and fishers will need to be done in the next few years. And even if stocks are on the upward trend, the cost per pound needs to provide a decent income, something that can’t be guaranteed by anyone.

The article I have presented is at best a brief summary of this complicated issue. I will continue to report on the groundfish situation, and I expect the news to be good in the next few years. Yet another reason to love the state of Maine. Get the full story in November’s issue of  Maine Coastal News.

*Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U. S. Department of Commerce Before the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, U. S. Senate, Boston, MA.

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10/16/2011

How to Dig Soft Shell Clams in Maine

Out in front of SeaCat’s Rest are untold numbers of Mya Arenaria, the soft shell clam. This is the type of clam you will get most often when you order a clam dinner anywhere in New England. These clams settle in the intertidal mud vertically, with their “necks” (siphons) extended several inches towards the surface, where they filter seawater for food. When they sense danger, like a human stepping on the ground nearby, they quickly pull in their siphons and remain securely buried in six inches or so of the fragrant mud. As they pull in, they often squirt excess water, betraying their location. But even if they don’t squirt, they leave a little hole where you know where to dig. That’s where the work comes in.

The first step is to make sure you’re legal. In Lamoine, Maine, that means getting a license. It costs a whopping $6 for residents or $12 for non-residents for a recreational license. This allows you to dig one peck per day, 2-1/2 gallons or about 150 clams. Since I usually figure 20 clams per person, that’s enough for 7 people.  The next vital step is to make sure there are no closures. A clam flat closure can be due to either pollution or red tide, and is not to be ignored. The place to go is the Maine Shellfish Hotline, 1-800-232-4733

Next you need equipment. A bucket or “hod” (a slatted tray with a handle) to hold the clams, some rubber boots and a digging tool. Here, the clam flats are not pure mud, but a mixture of mud and rocks. This makes it hard to get to the clams without damaging them, and I’ve found the best tool is a straight four-tined spading fork. Mine is made by Ames and was found at Home Depot.  The tines are placed at least six inches from the holes and pushed down all the way. If rocks are in the way, try a different spot. When down all the way, gently lever the mud up. Often you will catch a glimpse of a clam’s neck squirting water. Grab onto the neck and hold firm as you continue to flip the mud. This is your first clam.

Reject any clams under 2″ across or with broken shells–you’ll never get the grit out, and you want live clams, not dead ones. Once you have made your first hole, now it’s time to hear the digger’s secret. Flipping back the mud might get you one clam, but there are more down there and the only way to get them is to thrust your hand down and feel for them! Go back and forth across the bottom of the hole and probe for the shape of a closed clam set vertically in the mud. Rock the clam back and forth to break the mud’s suction.  Don’t worry, they don’t bite. You will pull out rocks and more mud, but with a little luck, a few more clams. Don’t forget to go over the mud already pulled out with the first spading. Beware of broken glass! Commercial clammers in Lamoine have lubricated their activities with liquor for a century or more. Some pieces of glass are therefore quite old and may be worth saving.

As your clam bucket fills up you will eventually want to rinse them. Pour out your clams onto a bed of rockweed and clean out the mud in your bucket. Pour clean seawater over the clams and return them to the bucket with clean water. Now is the time to make sure there are no dead clams, closed but filled with mud. Your clams can stay like this for hours in the shade until you’re ready to cook them. If you use tap water be sure to thoroughly mix in 1/3 cup of salt per gallon. The clean water also allows them to expel any grit they may have inside. Some people like to pour in cornmeal to give the clams something to replace the grit with in their stomachs. Once your clams get their grit out you can store them dry in the fridge for up to two days, but using sooner is better. Do not seal live clams in plastic!

In an hour or two you will probably have enough for your meal. As the tide comes up you will find holes in higher ground, up to about 80% of the tidal range. Beware, it is hard to stop once you have tasted success. Just walk away! Rinse your digging fork with fresh water to keep it from rusting, and enjoy your clam dinner. You will have saved about $3.00 for each pound of clams you have dug (price as of 10/13/11) . A pound consists of 10 or so clams, so if you dug 100 clams you just made $30!

Filed under Acadia, Good Food, Lamoine, Things To Do by on . 3 Comments.