Articles

The Weird and Woolly War Against the Lobster Poachers

With planes, patrol boats and fast cars the Fisheries officers fight a guerrilla campaign to enforce the lobster laws. With all the cunning of "third-generation poachers” the fishermen fight back. Who’s winning is anybody’s guess

DAVID MacDONALD October 1 1954
Articles

The Weird and Woolly War Against the Lobster Poachers

With planes, patrol boats and fast cars the Fisheries officers fight a guerrilla campaign to enforce the lobster laws. With all the cunning of "third-generation poachers” the fishermen fight back. Who’s winning is anybody’s guess

DAVID MacDONALD October 1 1954

The Weird and Woolly War Against the Lobster Poachers

With planes, patrol boats and fast cars the Fisheries officers fight a guerrilla campaign to enforce the lobster laws. With all the cunning of "third-generation poachers” the fishermen fight back. Who’s winning is anybody’s guess

DAVID MacDONALD

IN ANY other job in any other town Ron McKinnon, a chunky 31-year-old federal Depart ment of Fisheries officer at Alberton, P.E.I., might have been taken for a mental case, victim of a persecution complex. Here it was the sparkling bright summer of 1948 and his ruggedly handsome face was dark with suspicion. "I felt," he said later, "there was a great conspiracy against me." All around him he saw meaningful signs. Down at The Wharf, where most Alberton fishermen live, the mountains of idle lobster traps seemed to be shrinking daily, though the lobstering season was legally closed. At night on Main Street the fisher men, too, were fewer. Clearly, lobster poachingan old, if shadowy, industry in Alberton-was afoot. As a "lobster cop" McKinnon's job was to stop it.

Nosing around the frayed northwest coast of the island in a Fisheries patrol boat McKinnon raked up and smashed many illegal traps but, for the first time in a year on the job, he couldn’t seem to nab a single poacher in the act of sneaking lobsters ashore. And when, one night, two oft-convicted poachers smiled at McKinnonby his own frank admission “the best-hated guy in town”— he knew in his

Lobster cop Ron McKinnon matches wits with poachers on south coast of P. E. I. Follow him in his search for black market lobsters ^

bones that some special plot was hatching.

Then he had a hunch. If the poachers weren’t landing their catches, perhaps they were keeping them alive—“banking” them—somewhere. Why? Because by smuggling them around the shore on Aug. 10—two weeks off -when the lobstering season would open on the south coast of P. E. I., they could fetch fancy prices. McKinnon sensed where the bank would be.

So, while the poachers set their traps, McKinnon set his. On Aug. 8 he drove to Charlottetown, where a friend of his ran a dying school. On Aug. 9 two Fisheries patrol boats arrived in Alberton harbor. Minutes later a light aircraft appeared overhead. McKinnon, a former RCAF fighter pilot, was at the controls.

Below him telltale dark blotches marred the soft green beauty of the sandy harbor bottom. While poachers from The Wharf watched with mounting rage, McKinnon’s voice, booming from an airborne loudspeaker, sent the patrol boats scurrying about with grappling hooks. Up came 100 wooden crates, weighted with rocks. Imprisoned in them, still threshing about, were 22,500 candidates for lobster Newburg. Given an eleventh-hour reprieve, all

were taken out to sea and freed. Next day another 2,000 fresh-caught lobsters were released.

It would be a nice touch to add that the Alberton poachers, seeing the jig was up, reformed. Nice, but not true. “What do you know?” McK innon wrote in his next report to Halifax, the Atlantic headquarters of the Department of Fisheries, “ now they’re painting their crates and traps sea-green and using seaweed for camouflage!”

Today Fisheries men cite this as just another action in a long-standing war between the law, represented by their Protection Branch, and those artful dodgers of the east coast, the lobster poachers. “We’d never hunted poachers from the air before,” says Forrest Watson, a lean greying Scot who is chief protection officer for the Maritimes, “but it’s not surprising they figured out a defense. They’ve always been crafty birds.”

There are solid grounds for this grudging admiration. In New Brunswick and P. E. I. where the Fisheries Department is current,ly trying to break a two-million-dollar black market in illegal lobsters, poachers have smuggled their undersized or out-ofseason catches around in everything from milk cans and gasoline trucks to taxis and baby carriages.

They have improvised an intelligence network so ingenious that it has reached even into the office ot Fisheries Minister James Sinclair.

Their war with the law has been largely a war of wits. When Fisheries men slapped a closer watch on government-licensed canneries the natural outlet for black-market lobsters the poachers set up their own canneries in t he woods. When Fisheries aircraft began to spot these, they moved into caves carved by the sea. A recent article in Trade News, house organ of the Department of Fisheries, noted: “When fast boats are acquired by the Department’s patrol service, faster boats seem to appear for them to chase.”

Prize in the guerrilla warfare waged between the

department and the poachers is that armor-nlated aristocrat of the sea, the lobster. Each year 16,000 of the 23,500 licensed fishermen in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island throw two million traps overboard in the world’s busiest scramble for lobsters. Their haul brings a landed value -money in the fishermen’s pockets -of $15 millions, representing forty percent of the Maritimes’ total take from the sea, and year after year the most lucrative catch on Canada’s Atlantic coast.

To keep it so, most fishermen obey Fisheries regulations forbidding trapping in closed seasons and more important from a conservation angle— prohibiting landing at any time of undersized lobsters, “shorts,” as they are termed. But the

law-breaking minority is su.ficiently large to hold Protection Branch officers on watch at all times.

One morning last June Fisheries Warden Russell Perry, of Tignish, P.E.I., attempted to stop a truck that was carrying fourteen hundred illegal baby lobsters. The driver stepped on the gas and tried to run him down. Wisely, Perry dove into a ditch. After a 70 mph chase by a Fisheries car, ended when the truck skidded and turned over, a second officer asked the driver where he was taking the lobsters. “You’ve got your gall,” the driver said. “I’m no squealer!”

This was pure gangster stuff, and the trucker did three months for it. But in the lobster war this, too, was not new. One night in 1926 Fisheries Officer Agapie LeBlanc, of Buctouche, N.B., failed to return from a poacher hunt. His body floated to shore a few days later, the skull fractured. His murder is still unsolved.

Since then, other lobster cops have been assaulted, spat on, thrown overboard and shot at, but never with good aim. Patrol boats have been stoned, rammed and one, ten years ago, was burned. When Fisheries men surprised a bootleg cannery in P. E. I. in 1949, they had to subdue an irate cit izen brandishing an axe.

Poachers who have lost gear and money (in fines) to lobster cops have been swift to retaliate. In 1950, while Antonio Turbide, an officer at Eel River Bridge, N.B., was about his work, int ruders burned his barn, crops and livestock. Not long ago Warden Perry drove inti his driveway in Tignish; barlied wire, strung loosely between the gate posts, cost him a new paint job. Four months ago t wo Point Sapin, N.B., men drew two years in Dorchester Penitentiary for arson. Convicted of poaching a year before, they tried to burn down the home of the man they thought had informed on them.

Variations in length of closed seasons in lobster size limits add to the problems of enforcement officers. Closed seasons range from six to ten months, differing in each of the Maritimes’ ten lobster fishing districts. In some districts the size limit is about seven inches tip to tail; in others conservation-minded fishermen have voluntarily accepted a nine-inch limit.

Many fishermen, particularly in Nova Scotia, are so hipped on protecting their lobsters and letting them grow in size—and, hence, in dollar value— that they dispense their own rough justice to violators. A poacher’s gear mysteriously breaks up or a man who lands shorts finds sand in his motor.

But in other parts, notably where the lower Gulf of St. Lawrence washes the southeast edge of New Brunswick and the western half of P.E.I., the gum boot is decidedly on the other foot. Here a hard core of fishermen, abetted by unscrupulous cannery operators, have built up a thriving black-market trade in poached and short lobsters. Forrest Watson estimates that the total theft for the area may run to five million pounds of lobsters and that, if so, the

value to both fishermen

Continued on page 79

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 15

and canners is at least $2 millions. Fisheries officials believe perhaps fifteen percent of the 6,700 licensed lobstermen in this part of the Southern Gulf are involved.

Last year this area accounted for ninety percent of the 149,000 live lobsters and 13,100 traps seized by Fisheries men, the 440 prosecutions and $7,000 in fines levied in all three Maritime provinces. This reflects a pious local philosophy that God, not the government, put the lobsters in the sea.

But the government makes the rules. To enforce them the Fisheries Department has about two hundred uniformed protection officers and part-time wardens in the Maritimes, plus a handpicked squad of eight trouble-shooters, an occasional chartered aircraft and twenty - two coastal patrol boats, headed by the Cygnus, a converted minesweeper. But, since the departement has other duties to perform, only about sixty men and ten boats are free to operate in the black-market area. Their task is tough—they must cover roughly two thousand miles of coastline, observing the comings and goings of three thousand boats and almost seven thousand fishermen. Law-abiding or not, all fishing boats look alike.

There are close to sixty licensed canneries in this part of the Southern Gulf and they turn out about three quarters of the Maritimes annual pack of eight million pounds. Since they’re the obvious outlet for illegal lobsters, all must be watched. Fishermen’s homes and the woods around hide scores of bootleg canneries, financed often by legitimate factories.

IIow to Catch a Canner

What makes this black market successful is precisely what made bootlegging of another kind prosper in the thirsty Twenties: lobsters are in heavy demand from Halifax to Hollywood, and the Fisheries laws have as many loopholes as a herring seine.

Black marketing begins when fishermen boat their illegal catches. They sell them, in nine cases out of ten, to a canner or his buyer for anything from ten cents a pound—the lowest blackmarket rate—to thirty, the usual price for legal lobsters. The canner, m turn, sells his pack to “assemblers,” lobster wholesalers.

For Fisheries men, breaking this chain of events can be an adventure in frustration. For example, since both fishermen and canners are licensed by the Fisheries Department, the threat of canceling permits would seem to he the trump ace. Not so. If we take away a fisherman’s license,” Fisheries men say, “we only create one more man to watch full time.”

Canners are safe on another count. In New Brunswick and P. E. I., the only license a canner needs is issued under the federal Meat and Canned Foods Act, which has to do with sanitation in canneries that ship their packs across provincial or international borders. A dirty cannery can be closed tight, but not a tidy plant that deals in black-market lobsters. Only the minister of fisheries himself can shut down a cannery for black marketing. In recent memory, this has never been done.

Fisheries officers can take canners and fishermen to court. But first they’ve got to catch them with the goods. Here, if they aren’t hog-tied by

their own regulations, they run into trickery. For instance, when fishermen set their traps in the legal season, they’re marked with wooden buoys. For identification, each man paints his buoys with a special combination of colors, like racing silks. But in closed seasons, with Fisheries boats lurking about, this practice courts trouble. Consequently most poachers merely take bearings from inshore landmarks —a lighthouse or a beach—and throw their traps overboard unmarked. At night they retrieve them with grappling irons. Others are more daring. Not

long ago a patrol boat from Shediac, N.B., passed within five yards of a bobbing seagull. A Fisheries man, curious because it didn’t fly off, took a closer look. Good reason. It was hand-carved, hand-painted and tied to a string of 20 lobster traps.

To escape detection most poachers land their catches at night. They drop them off in secluded coves or inlets where they’re picked up by trucks and taken to licensed canneries or to homes, for boiling, shelling and canning. But often the poacher escapes the risk of taking lobsters ashore. Buyers, many

employed by the canneries, go along the coast at night in large smacks, meet fishing boats and transact business over the gunwhales. Once a buyer gets his lobsters ashore, he’s practically scot-free, so long as they aren’t short. There’s nearly always an open season on somewhere in the Maritimes. Confronted by Fisheries men, he can claim that the lobsters were bought legally. The lobster cops have to prove otherwise. They seldom can.

Short lobsters require more care. Fishermen sometimes drag them into port in burlap bags, tied beneath their

boats, and row them ashore after dark. One canner instructed fishermen to leave their short lobsters in boxes outside their homes. His truck picked them up at night. Another had a better scheme, until a sharp-eyed Fisheries man who couldn’t understand why fishermen who owned no cows put milk cans out at night suddenly twigged to the plot. Five years ago Gerry Morrison, a New Brunswick officer, seized a novel lobster carrier a 500-gallon gasoline truck. In Richibucto Village, N.B., last summer. Officer Phil Burke saw a woman push-

ing a baby carriage down the street. When he stopped to have a peek, the woman grew flustered. He pulled back the covers. “Not much likeness,” he said dryly, eying fifty pounds of lobster meat.

The legal size of a lobster is judged, not by the over-all length, but by measuring the carapace— its torso. In the Southern Gulf area, the carapace limit is two and one half inches, which corresponds to a seven-inch lobster. A few years ago Fisheries inspectors discovered that some fishermen had hit on the idea of taking live shorts, ripping

off the meaty tail and large claws and tossing the rest of the lobster back into the sea. No carapace to measure, no evidence to convict. The problem was taken to Fisheries biologists, who came up with a solution: the size of the lobster could be determined by measuring one segment of the tail fan. After several canners were nabbed this way, word got around and the practice ceased.

Since without the co-operation of cannery owners, illegal lobstering probably wouldn’t be profitable, Fisheries men have been hitting them regularly.

In some canneries wardens now keep a twenty-four-hour watch. Under a new regulation, if Fisheries officers find a large number of shorts in a cannery, they can seize the entire stock, including legal lobsters. Watson claims this has frightened many factory owners into accepting only meat that has already been cooked, shelled and canned.

Dozens of backwoods canneries have appeared, big and small. In 1956 Fisheries men walked in on a huge outdoor cannery at Pousett Lake, in southeastern New Brunswick. They found a packing line of women, crates containing 12,000 short lobsters and 600 tops for cans, each embossed will the serial number of a licensed cannery. The numbers are issued to each canner by the government to keep tabs on his pack. When the officers confronted the canner he claimed the tops had been stolen.

Fisheries men know that most of the lobsters canned in the woods and in private homes ultimately gravitate to the packs of licensed operators but, in many cases, the department can do nothing.

A home cannery, for one thing, is perfectly legal, unless the Fisheries officers can prove in court that the canning is being done for export across a provincial boundary. Then under the Meat and Canned Foods Act the cannery would be operating without a license.

If any proof were needed of the link between canners and poachers it was provided three years ago when the Fisheries men began on a big scale to seize poachers’ gear and smash their traps. Letters of protest flooded Fisheries headquarters in Ottawa, crying that the poor fisherman was being victimized. Most of the letters were signed, not by fishermen, but by canners. The broken traps belonged to them and had been lent to fishermen to use in the poaching season. The fishermen, for their end of the bargain, promised to sell all their lobsters to their patrons at the low black market rate of ten cents a pound.

Warned by Nursery Rhymes

Early this year, when Fisheries Minister Sinclair ordered a crackdown on the black market, officials in Halifax secretly formed a mobile flying squad that could be shot into trouble spots. All eight men picked were old hands with good records. All were big one, Gerry Morrison, rears six feet six oui of his boots -since, on past performance, there could be unpleasant -ness. And all were total strangers, not only to the fishermen of the poaching areas, but the resident officers and wardens. “It isn’t that we don’t trust our local men,” says Watson, “but they can hardly take a step without its being publicized.”

This is a striking tribute to one of the most remarkable intelligence networks I extant. Almost every fishing village j and cannery involved in illegal lobstering has its own warning system. In some sections of the Northumberland Straits, red shore lights tell a poacher that a lobster cop’s around, green that the coast is clear. In Cape Bald, N.B., a flag does the trick. The plans of one New Brunswick officer all went afoul until he discovered that a sister of one of the most notorious poachers was the local telephone operator.

A P. E. I. canner, whose plant lay at the end of a long road, hired a man to sit in a truck a few hundred yards off and lean on the horn when the Fisheries officer came in sight. Another paid children to play outside his cannery and, at the approach of anyone, to start singing nursery rhymes. W'hen he

heard Three Blind Mice all short lobsters were quickly hidden under a trapdoor.

Every time a lobster cop comes near Ste. Marie Sur Mer, off the New Brunswick coast, a latter-day Paul Revere scoots around on a motorcycle with the news. One officer in Nova Scotia used to marvel at the hard-working woman who was always busy hanging up her wash each time he sailed into the harbor at Pictou Island. Not until he arrived there one stormy day did he realize that she was signaling his presence. Else, why was she hanging out her clothes in the rain?

Unlike most other policemen, who can count on stool pigeons to make sleuthing easier, lobster cops get few tips. “Some ‘honest’ fishermen are afraid to squeal on poachers,” says Frank Campbell, a provincial fisheries official in P. E. I., who admits that he used to be a poacher himself. “But others just tolerate poaching as another wax of life.”

Id’s an old way of life. Back in 1937 several middle-aged fishermen who appeared before a commission investigation of the lobster industry testified proudly that they belonged to “the third generation of poachers.” One witness, a retired Fisheries officer, ventured that to stop poaching along the north shore of P. E. I., “you’d have to call out the militia.”

That 1937 probe revealed a comicopera situation where, overnight, Fisheries officers turned poacher and poachers became Fisheries officers.^ “It is quite common,” reported Commissioner Arthur T. LeBlanc, to see that a guardian finds himself presiding over the protection of lobster fishing in a section where he has been very successful in poaching the year before. And,” he added, “if anything is needed to make the situation worse, it is the fact that his appointment . . . has been obtained for him through the influence of men who are poachers in the very district assigned to him.”

The department has had only one known fifth columnist in recent years. Last fall Allan Robichaud, a district protection officer who lives in Moncton, N B., grew suspicious of one of his wardens. The man was forever leading patrol boats off on wild goose chases. Talking to him one night Robichaud casually mentioned that he planned to raid a nearby cannery next day to search for shorts. The warden didn't take part in the raid, but while Robichaud was at the cannery three truckloads of lobsters arrived. “We measured thousands,” says Robichaud, “and there wasn’t a single short. That was just too good to be true.” The warden resigned.

In their catalogue of frustration Fisheries men allot a prominent place, oddly enough, to the courts. Many magistrates don’t share the government’s serious view of illegal lobstering. Last June in Queens County, P.E.I., a fisherman pleaded guilty to having 420 shorts. The magistrate fined him five dollars. “That’s just like a license to go out and do it again,” said one annoyed Fisheries officer. Not long ago a canner was caught with three thousand short lobsters. His fine: twenty-five dollars. In the state of Maine, where the minimum fine is one dollar for each illegal lobster, he would have been hit for $3,000 or a stiff jail term. Some fishing organizations, notably the 4,000member United Maritime Fishermen, a marketing co-operative that has been crying loud and long against illegal lobstering, have advocated the same scale for Canada. Canada has a maximum fine of $1,000—yet to be imposed—but no minimum.

Lacking much help from the courts Fisheries officers have evolved their

own way of dealing with violators. Last summer two protection officers in P. E. I. spotted lobster boats converging on a buyer’s smack at sea. They waited until the transactions were complete, then arrested the buyer. He had eighteen hundred pounds of lobsters—only a quarter of them shorts— for which he had just paid out $500. A new regulation, just put in the books, enabled the officers to seize the entire load. He had thus lost $500 before he even went to court. His fine, as it turned out, was a tenth of that.

Though Fisheries men are cracking

down harder today than ever before, few of them behexte they can break the black market merely by smashing traps, seizing lobsters and haling men into court. “The big stick helps,” says Loran Baker, chief Fisheries supervisor for the Maritimes, “but unless we can educate these men we’ll have to keep clubbing for the rest of our lives.”

This summer District Officer Robichaud, who has spent eighteen of his fifty-six years chasing poachers, undertook to teach them. First he sent word around poacher-filled sout heastern New Brunswick that meetings to discuss

lobsters would be held in twelve fishing communities. Attendance was good, possibly because1 at Robichaud’s request parish priests in his strongly Acadian area advocated the meetings from their pulpits. Pamphlets on lobster conservation, printed in English and French, were gi\ren to the two thousand fishermen in Robichaud’s district and this fall, in the local schools, they were handed out to junior high-school students. “Maybe the kids can educate their fathers,” says Allan Robichaud hopefully. “If not, we’ve still got a good start on the

next generation of lobster fishermen.”

At each meeting Robichaud’s star speaker was Dr. D. G. Wilder, from the Fisheries Research Board’s Atlantic biological station at St. Andrew’s, N.B. Wilder is a tall square-jawed man of 38 who looks more like yesterday’s star halfback than the popular conception of a scientist. But he is one of the world’s leading authorities on Homarus americanus—the North American lobster—and for the past twelve years he has studied little else. It’s on the findings of Wilder and his staff of four that the government bases its lobstering regulations.

Hence many a poacher’s eyes popped this summer when he read the pamphlet Robichaud gave him. Written by Wilder, il states plainly that the laws that make poaching a crime—closed seasons—have little or no conservation value. This is why: in summer, in order to grow, the lobster breaks out of his form-fitting corset, dines ravenously and, while a new bigger shell hardens, he increases fifteen percent in length and fifty percent in weight.

In this molting period the lobster, being hungry, is easily caught. But he is also soft and scrawny—poor eating. For this reason, in 1874 when the Maritime lobster industry was just beginning to hit its stride the federal Government banned trapping in July and August. Soon, as the vast reserve of older never-been-fished-before lobsters vanished, yearly landings fell off sharply. Open seasons were shortened, in the hope of reducing the amount of fishing and so maintaining the stocks. In some areas, over the years, seasons were cut to two months; in others to six.

Seasons were pegged, not only to the lobster’s habits, but also to the fisherman’s. Where they conflicted with mackerel or cod seasons or with planting or harvesting times (many lobstermen are part-time farmers) the lobster seasons were altered—Homarus americanus, who doesn’t migrate, would still be there. The net result, often, was an open invitation to poachers. For example, the open season in most of the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence—the worst poaching waters — runs from May 1 to June 30. Within the next three months the lobsters there have molted, taken on new shells and grown

bigger. The crop is ready. But the fishermen, according to law, are supposed to leave them alone until the next May 1.

Now along comes Dr. Wilder with word that the law is an ass, in effect, if it thinks the present closed seasons are saving the lobster. Tagging experiments have proved that in most parts of the Maritimes, with two-month seasons or six, eighty percent of the legal-sized crop is caught. Only so many lobsters are available each year, he says, and trapping them for one month or nine will neither increase nor reduce the catch appreciably. The solution to the problem, Wilder says, is to have yearround fishing, except during July, August and possibly September when the lobsters are molting and mating.

Reaction to this opinion is mixed. Wilder suspects that poachers no more yearn for legal year-round fishing than the rum runners wanted Prohibition abolished, and for the same reason. “As long as there are more law-abiding fishermen than poachers,” he says, “the poacher can make an easy profit. While the honest fishermen’s traps are ashore, his only competition is from other poachers.”

A Lobster’s a Family Man

Most Fisheries men, on the other hand, are in favor of ending closed seasons and Watson has recommended it to Ottawa. “If we didn’t have to run after poachers all the time and patrol imaginary lines at sea,” he says, ‘‘we could turn most of our men loose on a more serious problem—short lobsters.”

Wilder terms the wholesale landing of undersize lobsters a major threat to the industry. Biologists concede that the lobster, who is even more of a family man than the rabbit, can probably never be fished to extinction. But if fishermen persist in landing shorts the day of the big lobster will end and the profit will go out of lobster fishing (legal Southern Gulf lobsters averaged three pounds in 1873; today a little over half a pound).

Size limits in force since 1940 are designed to let lobsters spawn at least once and reach the size that brings in the most money before they’re served up on a plate. Size limits come under

the vague impersonal heading of conservation. “Talk conservation to fishermen,” says J. H. MacKiehan, of Halifax, general manager of the United Maritime Fishermen, “tell them that they can protect the fishery for the next generation and you might as well be talking Cree Indian. They’re interested in money—now.”

Money is exactly the theme of the propaganda that is now being directed at short-lobster fishermen. Wilder’s pamphlet tells them about the men of Fourchu, a village on the southeast coast of Cape Breton. In 1947 they voluntarily raised their size limit from about seven inches to about nine. It meant they had to throw back about fifty percent of the lobsters they were then landing, but they went ahead anyway. The nearby community of L’Archeveque had raised size limits fifteen years before and prospered. The lobsters responded, but fast. By 1951 the Fourchu fishermen were setting fewer traps, catching fewer but bigger lobsters—and for every dollar they earned before, they now had $1.33. Moreover, on both sides of Fourchu, where regulations were unchanged, incomes remained the same.

Only Dumbells Take Shorts

Wilder contends that the only men who profit from short lobsters are the cannery owners. “Most fishermen,” he says, “take a clobbering and they don’t even know it.” He gives this example: suppose a fisherman in Alberton caught and sold 5,000 short lobsters. They would weigh about 1,700 pounds. If he were lucky enough to get the going rate for legal lobsters (about thirty cents a pound) they would bring him about $510. At the black market rate (ten cents) he would get $170. Allowed to reach legal size the same lobsters would weigh about 3,000 pounds and bring $900—almost twice as much as the fisherman got for them at the top price and five times the black market value.

“Lobsters don’t migrate,” says Wilder, “so when the fishermen in one area toss the small ones back in they know they’ll still be around in another year — bigger and more valuable. Taking them as shorts is just plain dumb.”

Last summer at one of the meetings he addressed Wilder made this point. One fisherman stood up, puzzled. “Do you mean to say when we take a short we’re stealing from ourselves?” Wilder paused to let the meaning sink in. “Exactly.”

But, ironically, the best argument for conservation was provided this year by the men who practice it least. In 1953 fishermen in the Alberton-Tignish area of western P. E. I.—the worst poaching grounds — landed 850,000 pounds of lobsters in the open season. Then, after the season closed, Fisheries officers there noticed that activity on the black market was the briskest ever. This year, though legal landings increased for the rest of P. E. L, around Alberton and Tignish they fell to

622.000 pounds—a loss on the year of

228.000 pounds and almost $70,000.

The lobster is an amazing creature.

He can go without food for seven months at a stretch, grow a new claw if he loses one in an undersea battle, crawl backwards at great speed when he’s alarmed; and some observers claim he can perform even more unlikely feats. Last June at Little Pond, P.E.I.. Fisheries officer Pete McLellan stopped a well known poacher’s car on the road. McLellan opened the trunk. It was filled with illegal lobsters.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” said the poacher. “They must of snuck in there themselves!” ★