BELFAST — Local fisherman David Black does not have any wild stories about working as a lobstermen out of Belfast Harbor. Most of the time it is all routine, but he said it is all he ever wanted to do since he was a child.

When Black started fishing out of Belfast Bay 57 years ago at age 14, only a couple of other people were fishing out of the bay at the time, he said. The water was dirty from runoff caused by a chicken processing plant along the water.

But that plant has been closed since the ’80s and he is impressed with how much the water has cleared up since its closure. About a dozen fishermen fish out of Belfast now, he said.

Wayne Canning “blames” Black for introducing him to lobstering at 17, initiating a lifelong career working in industries involving the water. He has lobstered for over 50 years and also builds and repairs boats in his workshop. He grew up in Swanville and has always lived in the Belfast area.

Canning has spent much of his free time building and racing boats, for which he has won awards. He was featured in Professional Boat Builders Magazine in 1997 and has been in the media several times for his fishing and boating activities.

Fishing was always Black’s dream job, but it is not the only job he has had. He went to college for marine science and technology and joined the Navy Reserve at 21, and was deployed to Vietnam for a year.

His experience working on fishing boats from an early age came in handy when he joined the Navy and some officials were impressed with his boat knowledge, which surpassed that of most of his peers. He was deployed all around the world, including to areas like the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, above the Arctic Circle and many more places.

Through all of these life experiences he always came home to lobster whenever he could, he said. He enjoys the culture and independence the lifestyle gives him. Each lobster boat is a small business and the industry adds about $2.5 billion per year to the statewide economy, he said.

Lobstering is hard work and people who want to make money in the industry must be active and self-motivated, Canning said. “My paycheck’s on the bottom and I gotta go catch it,” he said.

A youthful Wayne Canning holds a lobster while fishing out of Belfast Bay. Courtesy of Pansy Porter

Black is seeing more lobsters caught now than when he was a young lobsterman, he said. In the ’80s the haul of lobsters caught by the pound ranged from 19 million to 23 million pounds per year, according to state documents. Since 2011 the haul of lobsters caught by the pound has surpassed 100 million pounds every year except last year.

He thinks that shows that lobstermen do not overfish and have largely regulated themselves so as not to deplete the lobster fishery. It has long been a part of lobstering culture to be mindful of the number, size and type of lobsters taken. Lobstermen are not allowed to take females that have eggs and they can only take lobsters within a certain size range. Lobsters too small or too big are released back into the water. Measurements are taken along the body shell, which needs to be roughly within 3 to 5 inches of the guideline.

Since Black and Canning started fishing, more innovative gear has come to market. Canning thinks wire traps are one of the best improvements because they last longer, he said. Wooden traps would rot and were susceptible to pests.

Black used to use a window weight to find rocks on the sea floor to place his traps around because lobsters like to congregate around rocks, he said. But now he has a monitor that can indicate where rocks are while he is placing his traps. He also has a monitor with a digital map of the area and a monitor that allows him to navigate in the fog. Both men started out hauling traps by hand, but now they have hydraulic haulers that drag traps up to the surface.

But while more innovative gear has been developed, there also have been increases in state and federal regulations, conservation issues and operating costs. Black said he remembers when fishing licenses cost $10 and came with few regulations.

In the ’90s state and federal governments started regulating the fishery more, which made it harder for some fishermen to get licenses, Black said. Those regulations have since been adjusted and now it is easier to get a license, but they resulted in a generational gap among fishermen. He said most fishermen are either younger or older.

As the number of lobsters being caught has increased, so have operating costs, Black said. Costs of much of the equipment needed for a modern fishing boat range in the thousands, and boat repair costs come on top of those. Canning said a big reason why he got into building boats is so he can maintain his own boat, rather than paying a high price for someone else to do it.

Black thinks the biggest issue facing fishermen right now is conservation efforts to save the endangered right whale. There is little data showing that the whales frequent Maine waters, but the Maine lobster fishery is being scrutinized by conservation organizations with claims that fishing lines are causing entanglements. Many of the conservation groups want to see fishermen who use vertical lines in the water switch to fishing techniques that do not use ropes, he said. But there is little current research regarding the feasibility of traps that do not require ropes.

The federal government has issued new regulations for the industry in the last couple of years intended to help preserve the whales. They include requiring Maine fishermen to use purple painted ropes and ropes with weak spots that can break away from the buoy if a whale gets entangled.

Both Canning and Black have served on the Lobster Zone Council for Zone D, which includes most fishing communities in Waldo County. Canning is currently the Zone D chairman and acts as a representative for lobstermen in his area to help inform federal and state policy.

They both turn out to important meetings regarding policy in hopes of keeping lobstering alive as an industry. “Older fishermen are working hard to preserve the culture for future generations,” Canning said.

Local fishermen Wayne Canning, right and his grandson Dylan Connor get lobster traps ready Aug. 1. By Kendra Caruso

Local lobstermen David Black drives his boat into Belfast Harbor Aug. 2. By Kendra Caruso

An older photo of local fishermen Wayne Canning’s boat called the WW Cancan with one of his former sternman. Courtesy of Pansy Porter

Local fisherman Wayne Canning, left, and Pansy Porter are photographed in an older photo. Porter is Canning’s partner and used to help him fish and build boats. Courtesy of Pansy Porter

By Kendra Caruso

By Kendra Caruso

By Kendra Caruso

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