Editor's note: This is an corrected version of this column. A clarification about which types of females lobster cannot be caught or sold was made.
Eight-legged, with 21 body segments and a brain the size of a grasshopper, a lobster inhales through its legs and exhales through its head, extracting oxygen on the way through its gills.
Lobsters can smell. While officially they don't "hear," it is said that traps are usually empty on July 5, leaving many to believe lobsters hear enough to hide from the fireworks the night before.
Lobstering is the oldest continuous business in Massachusetts.
On a beautiful day in June, Jaita Richon, Michael Savoie, Adrien Hupin and I, along with our video crew, went lobstering with Geno Mondello, a Gloucester lobsterman for 43 years. You can see us pull traps, measure lobsters, even hypnotize lobsters on the video at www.gloucestetimes.com/food. Later, I interviewed Geno on shore.
Since almost nothing in the world is the same as it was 43 years ago, I asked the captain of The Western Edge to compare lobstering in 1967, when he first started with 20 lobster traps, to lobstering now. After a long pause, Geno said, "Lobstering was very romantic then; being out on the water, no traffic. Lobstering today?" — another long pause, and then — "It's too much like a business now; too much competition."
Then more silence. I was with Geno at The Dory Shop, a small wood-framed building next to the Maritime Heritage Center in Gloucester where, when he's not out on the water lobstering, Geno builds wooden dories, originally used by schooner fishermen to catch cod on the Grand Banks. In June, Gloucester hosts the International Dory Races. The morning I talked with Geno, he was working on a 19 1/2-foot double dory which was one of four commissioned by The Dory Committee for the races. The boat hung gracefully amid the dark, oily clutter of old tools like a sleek, fluid sculpture in an artist's muddle of chisels and dust. Work benches were so piled with tools I hardly found space to set down a notebook.