The shells rattled and clattered as they fell onto the deck of the rusted fishing boat. It sounded eerily similar to a child emptying their toy box in an angry frenzy. “Nothing,” said the fisherman. “Absolutely nothing today.”
One by one he lifted each of the whelk traps out of the water, opened the latch on the bottom, and shook the contents into a large crate. His first mate was standing by with a fist full of cod guts ready to re-bait the trap. Then with the sweep of one hand he picked out the contents worth keeping, and discarded the rest back into the belly of Dublin Bay.
Mack and Eddie have been fishing in Ireland for over twenty years, and they say this has been one of the worst years to date. The summer never came, and the lobster they relied on as their bread and butter, have been over-fished by men with little regard for others or the ecosystem.
The diet of the working day is Nescafe and cigarettes, L&M for Mack and rollies for Eddie. Both of them attested that they enjoyed a hearty bowl of Wheetabix at 5:30am, and that was all they needed. Lunch would slow them down, and the sea demanded their entire attention.
Emptying and refilling the whelk traps, almost 200 in total, took about 4 hours. When they moved onto the lobster pots, Mack spotted a large boat in the direction of Bray head. “Ivan has been here already,” he said. “Greed personified.”
It is illegal in Ireland to take the contents of someone else’s traps, however, taking any action against them requires photographic proof. For a small independent fisherman like Mack, with one boat and a varying schedule, that is impossible to obtain.
His fear was realised as he began to lift the first few traps out of the water. They were completely empty, without even a scrap of bait left. Mack said this was a sign that they were recently cleaned out.
His luck began to turn around when he made it to the second string of lobster pots. “There’s a monster,” said Mack as he pulled a 5-kilo lobster out of one trap. He estimated the lobster to be over seventy years old.
Due to the poor year, many Dublin restaurants have had to import lobsters from the west coast or Canada. Although many other fisherman, like Ivan, are having more success than Mack they are exporting their catches for a higher price. All the whelks that Mack caught today will be sent to China, but the lobsters will go to city center restaurants.
Each trap that he brought up now had at least 2 sellable lobsters inside. Mack measured the body of the smaller lobsters with a metal gauge. He threw many of them back into the water with a kiss and said, “Come back to me in a few years, and do me good.”
In order to ensure that the ecosystem is respected, it is expected that fishermen only take adult lobsters. If they take adolescents or reproducing females (identified by the eggs on their underside) then the balance of life cannot be maintained.
On the drive back to the harbour, Eddie hosed down the catch. They had 4 full boxes of whelks and close to 2 dozen lobsters. Mack estimated the lot to be worth 700Euro. It was good, but they would return in a few days.
In the silence, the clattering noise had returned. This time, however, it was not from the rattle of hollow shells. It was the sound of live lobster claws banging off each other as they fought for space. It signaled that the long days work had paid off.