Captains To Come - Ben Townsend
At Bajío we want to empower the next generation of watermen. The future of our fisheries depend on it. They are our eyes and ears on the water. Our first feature - Ben Townsend a 21-year-old Commercial Lobsterman out of Truro Massachusetts.
Who are you?
My name is Ben Townsend, and I’m a Commercial Lobsterman.
I just turned 21 in June, and I’ve been working for the family business since I was 14. During lobster season, I live in Truro, Massachusetts, and fish out of Provincetown, Mass. My uncle Chris Townsend, who owns the family lobster business, has been lobstering for 40 years. If you’re ever on Cape Cod, stop by and say hi. You can find more about us at Provincetownlobster.com
Lobstering, and most fisheries for that matter, in thje Cape Cod Bay have been dying over the last few years. Particularly the fisheries and wildlife that rely on water quality and a specific water temperature, like shellfish. Oysters, Clams, Lobsters, Crabs, etc. have all been clearly hit in the last decade or so. Water temperatures are higher than they ever have, oxygen levels on the bottom have never been lower (in some places 0% - which kills everything in a matter of hours) and actual water quality has been horrendous. Lobstering, or the type of lobstering that I grew up doing, is essentially dead.
I would consider myself an expert at “my type” of lobstering, which for the last 6 years has been in the Cape Cod Bay with a state license and landing permit. However, this year, we made some big changes; ie. Bought a bigger boat, a federal license, and more gear to explore bigger water outside of the bay.
How do you catch lobsters?
Generally, lobsters are caught in traps made of plastic-coated wire, wood, or both. They have heavy weights in the bottom, and usually plastic or wooden runners on the bottom that allow them to sit flat on the deck of a boat. Traps come in a few different shapes; Square, A-Frame, or Half round. About 90 % of our gear is made up of 4-foot squares, so I’ll focus on those. A trap has entry heads (where the lobsters enter the trap), the kitchen (where the bait sits that attracts the lobsters), and the parlor (where the lobsters are trapped). There is also a door on the top of the trap that allows us to access the lobsters and bait. There are a few other safety and environmental impact features of a trap, but I won’t get into those.
Now, when a lobster trap goes into the water, it can be retrieved 1 of 2 different ways. The simplest and oldest way is with a single line that lays vertically in the water column, with the trap on one end and the buoy on the other, called a single. The other way, trawl fishing, uses a horizontal line that attaches several traps together at equal intervals. You retrieve this trawl with a vertical line attached to a buoy on one end and the ground line (horizontal line in the water) on the other.
In the Bay, most of the gear we set is either in sand, mud, or a mix of the two. Our shallowest gear is in about 50 ft of water, deepest is about 90 ft. We start setting gear in late May or early June, but don’t start to catch until the end of the month. It’s slow until around July 4th, when it starts to pick up to a steady 1 or 2 lobsters in every trap.
By the middle of September, the lobstering is really good. We often have weeks upwards up 2000 lbs and occasionally upwards of 3000 lbs.
What does a normal day look like?
Lobstering, no matter where you do it, is a year-round job. We, in Massachusetts, work six months to fish for six months. Even in those six months of fishing, the first and last months are slower, so we have about 4 months of good catching.
When we go fishing, my day generally starts at around 4 a.m. We steam out to Stellwagen Bank, arrive by 530 AM, and begin our day of hauling traps. We have a planned schedule for our day and try to follow it as best we can. On an average day, I will handle 300 traps and over 600 lbs of lobster. I’m generally in by 5 p.m. After a hot meal, and shower it's almost time to do it all again.
What Shades Do You Wear?
I wear Bajío Boneville Green Mirror. They’re light enough that I can wear them all day and tough enough to keep their shape even in the heat of battle. I like the green mirror for spotting pots from the pilot house and rely on the heavy contrast to avoid hitting buoys on the foggy ride out. I know Bajío’s lifetime warranty will take care of me and my crew so we’re always rocking them. Behind the wheel, loaded down with lobsters, speakers cranking - that is #mybajio.