Bruce Thurlow, a Pine Point Native, as a teenager working on lobster traps. Courtesy photo John Thurlow

CAPE ELIZABETH/SCARBOROUGH — Maine and lobster are synonymous, with many tourists coming to the state each year for a lobster dinner or roll, but just as rich as the delicacy is the history of the lobster fishermen.

Although the earliest colonists did eat them, lobster-catching is described as a more recent activity in the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society’s publication, “Cape Elizabeth Past to Present.”

“Until the twentieth century lobsters could be pulled out from under the rocks,” the preservation society said. “The smaller ones of two pounds or less were often thrown away. Men in a variety of boats — dories, peapods and recently the easily recognized lobster boats powered by motors — set traps along the ledges. Increasing numbers of pots have been attached on a line to a buoy on which each man’s colors can be identified. Most lobstermen spent the winter months making traps, painting buoys and knitting bait bags. Lobstering was usually done in the summer when lobsters moved into warmer waters.”

Frank Darling, a lobsterman of Cape Elizabeth in 1918, and his pet pig, who always went with him, according to the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society. Courtesy photo Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society

Fishermen in Cape Elizabeth with barrels and bait cans. Courtesy photo Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society

In “A History of Cape Elizabeth, Maine,” first published in 1965, William Jordan said that a 1638 account from John Josselyn documented a “plentiful supply of lobsters” in the waters around Cape Elizabeth.

“It was extremely easy to gather lobsters from tidal pools or spear and gaff them in shallow water,” Jordan said on page 193. “After many violent storms, great quantities of lobsters were thrown upon the beaches and gathered up by the colonists as fertilizer for their crops. From the scraps of evidence available the situation was not significantly altered until late in the (18th) century.”

In 1830s, visitors from Boston began venturing to Cape Elizabeth and Maine for lobsters, increasing in numbers, Jordan said.

A Cape Elizabeth Lobster Boat in the 1930s. Courtesy photo Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society

Although lobsters have a long history, they were not always the world-famous food that they are now, said William Bayley, the third-generation owner of Bayley’s Lobster Pound at Pine Point in Scarborough. Growing up, he said he remembers that clams were the more popular product.

“A lot of people showed up here after the Second World War, young men who got out of the service, and they went lobstering,” he said. “So that was quite a change in the population at Pine Point.”

Bruce Thurlow, who grew up and lobstered in Pine Point in the 1940s through the 1960s, said in his manuscript, “Recollections of Pine Point, Maine,” provided to the Leader by his son and editor, John Thurlow, and set to be published on Amazon this year, that the lobstering industry saw many changes in the 1960s.

Bruce Thurlow in 1980. Courtesy photo John Thurlow

“Although lobster fishing is still very hard and dangerous work, it is not the same as it was in my youth,” Bruce Thurlow wrote. “This is especially true due to the arrival of technologies such as new electronic equipment, outboard motors, fiberglass boat construction, and ‘pot haulers.'”

Young men would enter the lobster-fishing business through their fathers, Bruce Thurlow said in the manuscript.

“They had ‘learned by doing’ whatever task or skill their father asked of them, such as painting buoys, repairing broken lathes, measuring rope, and netting heads,” he wrote. “Along with these necessary jobs, the young men of Pine Point might also, as I did, have their own boat to begin their tradecraft. I remember well working for my uncle rowing a dory from trap to trap as his helper before I owned my own 16-foot skiff from which I set my traps and hauled them each by hand.”

Through the years and into the 21st Century, shipping methods helped shift the lobster industry, said Susan Bayley Clough, current owner of Bayley’s Lobster Pound.

“I think shipping is what really changed the lobster industry,” she said. “When lobsters became something that can be shipped outside of New England easily to other parts of the country or other parts of the world, that changed the demand entirely and changed the market for lobsters, changed the pricing and changed everything about the industry.”

Before the days of refrigeration, Bayley used to go to Little River Road in Old Orchard Beach, which was home to an ice house, to get 300-pound blocks of ice that would go into shipping barrels, he said.

If people are curious about how modern-day lobstermen catch lobsters, Capt. Tom Martin of Lucky Catch Cruises, located on Portland’s waterfront, shows people through the summer how the work is done and what types of regulations are implemented for the fishermen. One of the cruises takes people as far as Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth.

Capt. Tom Martin and Rachel Ashman, crew of Lucky Catch Cruises, showing people what modern-day lobstermen look for when catching lobsters. Martin grew up in Cape Elizabeth and has been lobstering for over 30 years. Catherine Bart photo

“We’re so rich with history,” he said. “We can see multiple lighthouses, multiple forts in one area.”

Martin, who loves lobster so much he once ate lobster 21 days in a row, grew up in Cape Elizabeth, he said. He started lobstering 37 years ago as a summer job with his neighbor, Andy Strout.

Nowadays, it may be more difficult for aspiring lobstermen to acquire a license, Martin said. There is much dedication in the work.

“The fishing is still the same,” he said. “You still have to get up early and work hard.”

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