Beautiful, remote and steeped in scientific history, the Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island has for decades allowed Bowdoin students to pursue field work, develop creative pursuits, meet professional ecologists, and often co-author scientific papers.
One little-known highlight of the summer research season is the annual trip Bowdoin students take aboard the fishing boat Island Bound, owned and operated by longtime Kent Island caretaker Russell Ingalls.
English major Monica Das ’14 was one of eight students who accompanied Ingalls on a recent day of lobstering in the Bay of Fundy. She offers a vivid first-person account of their adventures:
On Friday, June 29, a chorus of beeping watch-alarms erupted at 4:30 a.m and we rolled out of bed to pile on our rain gear. Russell picked us up as the sun was rising, and we split into two crews. I joined Cailey Oehler ’15, Claire O’Connell (Kenyon College ’13) and Kasey Villeneuve ’14 on Russell’s boat Island Bound, with son his Chris and Mark Wilcox as crew.
Russell’s older son, Theron, piloted the vessel Mearl Maid, accompanied by Claudia Villar ’15, Elizabeth Brown ’15, Sheela Turbek ’13, Will Montag ’13, and Jason Cain as crew.
From Island Bound we sighted Herring Gulls, Common Eiders, Black Guillemots, Atlantic Puffins, and Wilson’s Storm-petrels. Russell showed us the boat’s mapping equipment and described how, when his father learned to sail, his only navigational tool was a compass. Chris and Mark taught us how to stack lobster traps, empty bait bags, and band lobsters. Suddenly, we were part of the crew.
Russell approached each trawl – a long buoyed line with several traps attached – with careful precision. As soon as we were close enough, Mark grabbed the buoy with a long gaff (hook), pulled it onboard, and looped the line over a hydraulic-powered winch. He hoisted the line aboard with this pulley, then reached over the rail and pulled up the trap. He and Chris then emptied the traps, 48” x 24 x 15” colored wire boxes.
The smell of fish clung to our rain gear for days, but our memories were more than worth the price.—Monica Das ’14
First, they untied bait bags – small mesh sachets oozing with old herring – and slid them down for one of us to empty into the water. Seabirds, particularly gulls, swarmed down on the bait and formed a white train behind us. Next, Mark and Chris showed us unusual catches, including anemones, urchins, and grumpy-looking fish, before throwing them back to their watery lives.
They pulled out the lobsters, throwing back animals that were too small or females carrying fertilized eggs. The minimum legal carapace length – the measure of the hard continuous shell covering the lobster’s head and thorax – is three and a quarter inches. Local fishermen call the lobsters too small to harvest “bobs.” Selling a lobster that is under regulation size or that is carrying eggs results in heavy fines and sometimes in the suspension of a fisherman’s license, so Mark and Chris checked each lobster very diligently. Finally, Chris stacked the trap on the boat’s deck while we banded the lobsters.
At first nervous about handling the lobsters, we quickly gained confidence. We grabbed the lobsters with one hand, sliding our fingers up their sides until their claws were locked pointing above their heads. With our other hand, or a partner’s, we held a bander, a scissor-like device with small metal plates that fit together like clapping hands rather than sliding blades. Holding the bander closed, we jabbed its end into a thick rubber band, then opened the bander so that the rubber band was opened tautly on it. We slid this band over the lobster’s claw, let go, twisted our wrist, and pulled the bander away, ready for the next claw.
Chris showed us how, if the lobster’s claw was opened too widely for a band to fit around, a quick poke to the inside of the claw with the bander would cause the lobster to snap it closed; of course, we learned quickly that if the jab was too slow, the lobster simply snatched the bander.
We made two trips, each about four hours, to retrieve all of Russell’s traps. For the first time in several years, all the students stayed aboard for both trips, eager to spend time with the patient, encouraging, and engaging lobstermen. Mark enchanted us with tales about his children, and Cailey entertained him with a story of being locked in a tuba case. She suggested the story implied that she could fit in a lobster trap easily, but we decided not to test her claim.
When we returned to Grand Manan after the second run, we met the students who had been aboard Mearl Maid. After an ice cream run, we found Russell’s beautiful home and met his wife and daughter. There, we took our first real showers of the summer, a transcendent experience for each of us.
Later we ate a wonderful dinner with the Ingalls family. After dinner, Russell took us back to Kent Island with a bin full of lobsters, which we enjoyed for days. Dinner was an animated and laughter-filled mess and we felt positively decadent as we fixed ourselves lobster omelets and lobster rolls. The smell of fish clung to our rain gear for days, but our memories were more than worth the price.
At the Bowdoin lobster bake this fall, I will have a new appreciation of the work involved in lobster fishing, and I will remember my time on Island Bound warmly.