Pot Puller

A day in the life of a Rhode Island lobsterman.


It’s 7 a.m. on a sunny spring day close to shore off Rhode Island Sound when lobsterman Mark Jones spots his trademark white and red buoy and puts the Kristen J. in gear. He scoops up the buoy and hooks the end of the rope to the boat’s hydraulic hauler. It pulls a set of fifteen pots — strung together with ropes — to the surface from the depths below.

A trap surfaces, Jones heaves it on deck and the deckhand waits with fresh bait — three sea robins strung together — to be hung next to the decomposing carcasses of last week’s lure. Four lobsters snap at each other in a pile of claws, tails and legs. Another critter struggles in the netting.

Jones unhooks the top of the pot and grabs each lobster in a hurry, sizing them up. Their tails flap in fury. “I can tell just by looking at them,” he says, throwing back two that are undersized and one that is loaded with black clumps of millions of tiny eggs on its underside and tail. The last two are measured with a metal gauge that reaches from the eye socket to the end of the body where the tail begins. As long as the lobster extends past the marker, it’s a keeper. “We have to throw out shorts, eggers, oversized and v-notches [lobsters that are being tracked from a past oil spill by a notched cut that appears on the fan of the tail],” says Jones. Only one makes the cut. He lofts the lacking lobster into the air, then it makes a splash and sinks with the others. It’s only a matter of time until it’ll be someone’s dinner.

Out of five lobsters, only one is more than a pound, which is the smallest size Jones is allowed to keep. It turns out this pot with five lobsters is a rarity; the next few traps come up empty save for a scavenger spider crab feasting on the rotting bait. “You’ll see a lot of those,” Jones says.

For this average seven-hour day at sea, Jones and a deckhand haul 270 pots for 110 lobsters. They’ll be sold right off his boat in the afternoons at the docks in Galilee off Great Island Road and State Street — $10 each for one-and-a-quarter pounders (seasonal). The rest will be sold to Champlin’s Market. By 3 p.m. today, dayfisher Jones will be back at home relaxing. “I like being home at night,” says Jones, who usually fishes right through January, depending on the weather. “I can go out on a nice day and stay home on crap days.”