The piercing sound of a winch shattered the predawn ocean calm as a yellow trap was hauled up from the Northumberland Strait’s pitch-black waters onto the Jaxton Brock’s deck at about 4:20 a.m.
It was the first catch of many on Wednesday and inside the traps were a true Pictou County delicacy: lobsters. They were quickly snatched up by veteran fisher Suzanne Francis and thrown into a wooden tray table on deck, where their claws were bound in beige elastic covers.
It was only the second day of lobster season, but Francis knew her routine intuitively: after picking them out of the traps or ‘pots’ she banded together the lobsters’ claws. Next, they were placed in different trays according to their size.
“One side’s for markets, one side’s for canners,” said Suzanne. “Canners being the smaller lobsters, markets being the bigger.”
As she spoke, she held up a particularly juicy-looking lobster still dripping with seawater. It went straight into the market tray tucked under the wooden table used for banding its claws.
However, the Jaxton Brock’s crew are bound by conservation laws. Suzanne showed The News a female lobster with eggs – tiny black pellets strapped to her belly – which was dropped back into the water. Pregnant lobsters have protected status.
The lobsters themselves live on the seabed. Traps lowered from the Jaxton Brock are baited with crabs or Gaspereau (alewife) fishes and once lobsters climb in for the meal, they cannot escape.
The largest lobster ever caught by the Francis family was 10 lbs, but they also catch other marine edibles.
“We fish mackerel, herring and raw crab,” said Suzanne.
A few steps away from Francis, her husband Warren stood on the Jaxton Brock’s bridge.
His job was to safely navigate his vessel to 56 lobster trawl sites and give the signal to Francis and third crew member Patrick Christmas to man the winch by blowing the horn. He also stepped out to help bring in the catches.
Helping Warren was a radar display and an onscreen map showing where the Jaxton Brock could stop and haul in the traps. Another display showed the ocean depth in feet.
The Jaxton Brock is a brand-new vessel that still smells of fresh paint and is named for Warren and Suzanne’s grandson, expected later this year. Warren was proud of their boat’s performance.
“It turns on a dime,” he said.
It can also accelerate fast, reaching speeds of 20 or 30 knots when The News glimpsed the display panel, bouncing over the ocean waves. The ride was bumpy, as it often is with small boats plying the Northumberland Strait.
By now, early morning darkness gave way to an orange-tinged dawn light followed by a golden sunrise over the strait.
Sunup came as the Jaxton Brock passed by another boat fishing lobsters off Pictou County. The dawn light revealed other vessels in the distance.
As morning broke over the waves, Patrick Christmas took a few seconds’ break from working the lobster traps to explain what he liked most about fishing.
He simply gestured across the vast expanse of sea now turned deep blue by daybreak.
“See all this?” Christmas said. “Just being outside on the ocean. I love the ocean.”
He first started fishing at 14 and has been in the trade for years.
Even so, he was wowed by the Jaxton Brock’s performance.
“It’s like a Cadillac on the water,” said Christmas.
Over nearly eight hours, the Jaxton Brock went from site to site up and down the strait hauling in hundreds of pounds of lobsters.
It finally returned home to Pictou Landing’s wharf just before noon, where the lobster crates were immediately unloaded onto a truck by shore workers.