Five a.m. on the Wharf: Lobster Fishing in Cape Breton

During my recent trip to Cape Breton I had the opportunity to go out on a lobster boat several times. The lobster fishing season in this particular area of Cape Breton runs from May 1st to the end of June. Generally, the boat leaves the wharf at 5:00 a.m.!
Above:Lobster boats in Petit De Grat being prepared for the fishing season.
Below: A private wharf in Arichat loaded with lobster traps.


The first day out involves setting all the traps in place. The crew of the boat I was on set 250 traps for the season.

The traps have long ropes and buoys attached allowing the traps to go to the bottom with the buoys marking them for daily retrieval. Each fishing boat has its own unique buoy style. Below: a buoy trailing behind the boat.

This fisherman has been lobster fishing in this area for over 55 years.




The gaff is a long stick with a hook on the end and it’s used for catching the rope and buoy so the traps can be pulled up for emptying each day. The rope then goes into a hydraulic pulley system that raises the heavy trap.

Baiting and banding stations. The strong claws of the lobster are secured with rubber bands otherwise they will grab hold of anything, especially fingers!

A knife wielding lobster.

There are strict rules about the size and condition of lobsters that can be kept. Female lobsters with eggs have to be returned to the sea; as do unhappy looking codfish that accidentally get caught in the traps.



Some seagulls like to hitch a ride on the boat.


When fresh bait is put in the traps, the seagulls, very willingly, take care of the old bait as it is thrown overboard!

A big thank you to the wonderful crew of the Della & Donna!

© Karen McRae, 2012

43 thoughts on “Five a.m. on the Wharf: Lobster Fishing in Cape Breton

  1. That second to last photograph is top notch! Actually, they all are but it’s my fav. This is an incredible post. Fisherman intrigue me for they live such drastically different lives than the rest of us. Great work Karen! Looks like a whole lotta fun 🙂

  2. Incredible yet again have to say the one with the setting sun reflecting was my favourite especially the contrast between the natural water reflective surface and the man made safety strips on the fishermens jackets

  3. Those photos are amazing. Love the up close and personal with the lobster – love it! Love the last shot – all the action of the seagulls and the water – so much movement.

  4. Great stuff Karen! The sequence of photos made me really feel that I was there. I was quite absorbed. Travelling without moving! 🙂

  5. Great post! Educational and well illustrated. Reminds me of my birthplace, Salem, Mass., and how my mother taught me to “hypnotize” lobsters before placing them in the boiling pot (hold them, head down, by the carapace and stroke their tails into a curl until they become completely relaxed).

  6. A fine collection. The seagull photos are particularly good and the last one is outstanding – full of action, wonderful detail, vibrant colours and beautifully captured composition.

  7. What’s happening… bright colours !! Karen !!
    Great story and such glorious photographs.. I love all the wave ones and the birds.. especially like the wet window one too

  8. Hi Karen, nice series. I particularly like the silhouetted fisherman image. 5am is just a little too early for my liking. Glad you did it though.

  9. Very nice pictures, I watch these same boats from my windows every day but you captured the experience with amazing shots – love them all.

  10. Really liked the feel of the sea and the industriousness of the crew…. must be a hard life. The last shot of the seagulls is magnificent. Would be interesting to know if lobster numbers have decreased over the years.

  11. Those seagulls! Incredible images! I feel like I am there – although as I am never up at 5 there is little chance 🙂 Wonderful!

  12. I am really captivated by the last shot in your post. It is very surreal and captures the moment of chaos perfectly. It also reminds me of an M.C. Escher drawing with all the gulls descending simultaneously into the sea in a geometric fashion. Great shot!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s