We arrive early, gathered along wharfs, idling cars with windows frosted around the edges, marching up the boardwalk, waiting along rocks and beaches and pretty much any place we find a vantage point to watch and photograph and film the boats. We refuse to bundle for the chill, holding onto hope that the warming sun will be kind to us at the ungodly hour of 6am, and shiver away as we watch with pride and hope, appreciating the history of what we are watching. Lobster fishing, at least around here, has been going for 150 years.
Setting Day, as the name so clearly says, is the day our lobster fishers load their boats with traps they had been fixing and building and buying all winter and spring long, then chug under the weight, back ends sinking, out the harbour, in a tidy procession of order, given the pathway to open ocean seems to grow small and smaller each year as the tides and storms fill the channel with silt and sand. They race off, at 6am, to spots that had been pre-arranged through history and informal inheritance or a hunch or past success. It doesn’t entirely make sense to me, how they plot ocean, building invisible fence lines for their plot without fence posts and fence. But then they know the sea as we know land, and though they no longer follow birds and read winds to navigate, they are experts in water. Using whatever they have of the day, radio or GPS, they navigate their way to places where they drop baited lobster traps, ready to fool those cold-water crustaceans for another year. Then they will chug back to the harbour to grab more traps baited and stacked high, waiting to be dropped to cold depths.
Just shy of 6am in North Rustico and the boats are waiting, a diesel hum in the air, out past the breakwater. They are idling in the ocean, rocking in the small surf, and we are all there under the guise of hope. Hope for a safe fishing season. Hope for good prices, good catches, good feeds of lobster for Mother’s Day around the corner. We are there as a part of history, paying homage to how hard it is to earn a buck on the open sea. These fishers will fade into the background after today, another unknown fleet feeding multitudes at Lobster Suppers and restaurants across Asia.
But on Setting Day we all come out, our very small way of thanking those who carry our traditions forward, sometimes progress is as simple as doing the same thing year in, year out.
At 6am we hear the snarl, smell the burning diesel along with the salt spring air. For a brief moment we are all gathered in one place, connected by the magnitude of the moment, and then the boats disperse. As do we, greeting strangers, hugging and greeting old friends as we make our way to still-warm cars, ready for the spring ahead, wondering if there is a sale on butter anywhere, maybe Shoppers?