Joe Mondello is 71 and has been lobstering out of Gloucester for almost a half century, since he got out of the U.S. Navy submarine service in 1973.
But in the spring of 2021, like the rest of the Massachusetts inshore lobster fleet, Mondello and his fishing vessel Tully IV are parked at dock, with state waters shut down to all lobstering in a closure instituted to help protect the imperiled North Atlantic right whales while they’re in state waters.
“Why are they putting all of this on us?” Mondello said Monday. “I guess it’s because they know there’s nothing us little guys can do about it.”
The closure has dissolved any chance of early season fishing, which isn’t as big a problem locally as it is for lobstermen elsewhere who harvest from waters that warm up more quickly.
The real pinch has come on land. The new state regulations mandated lobstermen — many of whom fish the maximum 800 traps — remove all gear, including traps, lines and buoys, from state waters during the closure.
So, out of the water and ... where?
It’s impossible not to notice, in navigating Cape Ann, that here are hills — sometimes mountains — of lobster traps at every turn.
They’re in yards. They’re on docks, like the wall of traps above St. Peter’s Landing or the sea of traps surrounding Capt. Joe & Sons in East Gloucester.
They’re in public open spaces, such as the city-owned I-4, C-2 lot on Rogers Street and the Everett R. Jodrey State Fish Pier.
Their presence isn’t so unusual. That happens every offseason as boats rotate gear in and out of the water for maintenance and repair.
But seldom do they all come out at once.
The difference in 2021, thanks to the state gear removal mandate, is the sheer volume of traps.
Viewed from above, it must look as if a civilization of giant children have begun Lego games all over the cape.
“There are way, way more than usual because everybody had to take all their gear out of the water,” said Chad Johnson, Gloucester deputy harbormaster. “Some guys just didn’t have anywhere to put them all.”
The city, he said, has tried to help fill the storage void, allowing lobstermen to store far more traps at I-4, C-2 than anytime in the past.
It’s also allowing lobstermen who store them on the St. Peter’s dock to leave them longer this year to accommodate the closure that will run to May 1 at the very least and possibly to May 15 — depending on the continued presence or absence of right whales in state waters.
Lobstermen previously had to remove the gear at the St. Peter’s docks by May 15. This year, they will have until June 1.
Mondello, who fishes about 600 traps, began hauling his gear in November, in advance of the imposition of the state’s new protective measures for whales.
“I figured this was going to happen,” Mondello said.
Still, it turned into a scramble. Mondello got 400 of his traps to land, but then he suffered a double hernia that required surgery.
“I had to get someone to help me take the rest of them out,” he said.
Chris Orsillo of the fishing vessel Trapper John chipped in and hauled about 100 of Mondello’s remaining traps. Joe’s brother Pete Mondello — also a longtime lobsterman — got the rest.
His traps have experienced something of a gear diaspora.
Administrators of the state fish pier, where he ties up the Tully IV, allowed him to store about 50 on the pier.
The rest, about 550, form a wire wall in the yard of his father, 93-year-old Joe Mondello Sr., the longtime cobbler and owner of Mondello’s Shoe Repair on Pleasant Street until retiring last fall.
“I store them there all the time,” said Mondello the son. “Just usually not this many.”
Longtime Gloucester lobsterman John “Doc” Herrick of the fishing vessel Dog & I, who is storing his 800 traps in Essex, said he normally would have about half in the water and half rotated out at this time of year.
“The advantage to this year, I guess, is that I have all my gear in one spot,” Herrick said. “That way, it’s easier to go through all of it and fix what needs it. Theoretically, that should mean you won’t have to do it again later in the season.”
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT