The American lobster, Homarus americanus, can grow to 65 centimetres in length and can weigh in at over 20 kilos, making it the world’s heaviest crustacean. It is only found along North America’s Atlantic coast, between Labrador and New Jersey, and currently it’s being seen in numbers never experienced before. Last year, Maine’s 5,700 fishermen pulled up 57 million kilos (126 million pounds) of lobster.
Lobster fishing in the stormy, unpredictable North Atlantic entails many risks. The large, heavy steel lobster pots are linked together and as the boats move forward the weight of one cage pulls the next cage down into the cold and wild sea. If a fisherman’s hand or foot gets caught in the rope there is a great risk it will be dragged away by the fishing equipment, which weighs hundreds of kilograms. In Maine, there are many gruesome stories about torn-off body parts.
V8 to go far out
Brothers Chris and Jason Chipman are known as two of Maine’s most skilful lobster fishermen. Chris often uses his 800 horsepower Scania V8 engine to go fishing on the banks (plateaus and ridges) rising far out to sea, where most others rarely go.
“I have fished for lobsters since I was six years old and know that it’s a tough job and sometimes also dangerous,” he says.
Lobster fishing is the brothers’ blood. Their family has been involved in the industry for generations. At Chipman’s Wharf in the small fishing town of Milbridge, boats continually dock to deliver their catch, unload, re-bait their lobster pots and re-fuel before the next trip out to the fishing grounds.
The two local restaurants close early as the working day of most residents begins before sunrise. Chris says: “If I wake up at 5.30 a.m. it feels like I’ve slept away half the day.”
No one knows for sure why the lobster population has increased so dramatically along the Maine coast in recent years, but it’s probably due to a combination of higher water temperatures and over-fishing of cod, the arch enemy of lobster spawn.
For the Chipman brothers, the abundance of lobsters means that they have to spend more and more time at sea. As the lobster supply has increased, the price per kilo has fallen for the fishermen, who now have to pull up even larger catches to support their families.
To get out to the fishing grounds quickly, strong engines are needed with more and more horsepower. Chris’s V8 is his third Scania engine and Jason quite recently began using his first Scania engine ‒ a 13-litre 700 hp model.
“We’re dependent on strong, reliable engines in our lobster boats,” says Chris. “An engine that breaks down can cost several days’ fishing, which is very, very tough for us.”
Jason is in total agreement that engine reliability is of the utmost importance for lobster fishing in Maine.
“If you’re 30 miles (50 km) out to sea, you want to have things you can rely on,” he says.
Jason says he had a non-Scania engine that needed major repairs, so he opted to get a replacement. “I had several alternative new engines to choose from,” he says. “Since my brother was mostly satisfied with his Scania engines, I decided to give them a chance. It was the most expensive option, but at the same time it offered me the most horsepower.”