Harpswell Historical Society

Incorporated 1979

929 Harpswell Neck Road
Harpswell, Maine  04079

The Harpswell Historical Society is dedicated to the discovery, identification, collection, preservation, interpretation, and dissemination of materials relating to the history of Harpswell and its people.

Table of Contents

Historic Park 
and Museum

Links to 
related sites


Occupations in Harpswell Maine in the Early to Mid 1900's


By students of West Harpswell School

A 2001-2002 Harpswell History Project

Growing up
Living on a Farm


Clifford Moody was twelve or thirteen when he started lobstering and he had about twenty-five traps. When Roy Knight was twelve his father built a skiff for him and forty traps. Clifford did some carpentry during his life. Roy went sword fishing and scalloping. Both of them went lobstering by themselves when they first started.

Clifford's father lobstered and sardined. Roy's father did part time lobstering and worked at Bath Iron Works.

Roy said when he was a kid he used to see guys like Cliff and wanted to get on those boats and be out on the water. Clifford wanted to work on the water and be his own boss.

They both started lobstering with a skiff. Cliff later got an 18 ft. power boat, prior to the one that he has now. Roy also got much bigger boats as he grew older.

Now a person is supposed to serve two years apprenticeship on someone else's lobster boat before he or she starts lobstering on their own. Then they can get a license.

Clifford used one of his traps and demonstrated how a lobsterman puts bait in a bag, pushes the bag into the trap and then shuts the trap. He showed where a lobster crawls into the trap to get the food, how it is caught and why it can't get out. He also showed us the place where small lobsters can escape. Then they can be free to grow and a lobsterman doesn't have as many small lobsters to throw back.

A buoy is used to mark each lobsterman's trap. It is tied on the end of the rope that is attached to the traps. Each lobsterman has his or her own color for buoys. Buoys also have to be displayed on the lobsterman's boat. Cliff's buoys are red and white, Roy's are yellow and blue. Buoys are now made of styrofoam. Buoys used to be made out of wood. They were made of cedar because that kind of wood is lighter than other wood. Buoys still got heavy when soaked through with water and were harder to take care of.

When we visited Roy and Cliff they demonstrated how a lobsterman hauls traps. Cliff's boat was on shore. He started the engine and Roy acted as Cliff's sternman. They showed how traps are hauled onto the boat, then the lobsterman slides the trap to the helper.The helper takes the lobsters out. If the lobsters are noticeably small they are thrown back without measuring them. The other lobsters have to be measured from the eye socket to the beginning of the tail. If they are too small they are called "short lobsters". Maine also has a double gauge law so lobstermen can't keep lobsters that are too big. Small lobsters will grow into bigger lobsters if they are thrown back and bigger ones will help produce more baby lobsters. Female lobsters with eggs are thrown back, but the lobsterman will put a v notch in the tail before throwing the female overboard.

After Cliff and Roy showed how the first trap is hauled and the lobsters taken out, they showed how the sternman measures and bands the lobsters, how he baits the traps, and then sets it aside. Meanwhile the next trap is being hauled. The same procedure is followed until all the traps on the string are hauled. Then the lobsterman pushes the first trap overboard. As the boat goes along, each of the other traps slides into the water. Most lobstermen have from five to ten to fifteen traps on a string or trawl because it's faster that way. However, some lobstermen have a single trap on a line.

Most of the lobster bait used now is herring. People sometimes use pogies and they used to use red fish.

The number of lobsters found in a trap varies from none to eight or ten. A trap may have as many as twenty short lobsters. A trap may have other things in it besides lobsters such as crabs, conchs, snails, etc. Sometimes seals will even stick their heads in a trap to get food.

Lobsters sometimes fight or they get a claw caught and torn off in a trap. A lobster's claws and legs will always grow back no matter how many times they lose them.

Traps are usually set in about the same area from year to year. Cliff does his lobstering from Pott's Point in South Harpswell to Whaleboat Island. Traps are shifted around during the year. Lobsters are in warmer shore water when they are shedding. Lobsters shed their shells once or twice a year. The shell splits open when they are full of meat.That's when lobsters shed their shells and are growing new ones.The new shell is soft, but will gradually get harder. Lobsters are more plentiful in the summer. They are out in deeper water later in the season. Lobstermen try to keep their traps away from other fishermen's traps, but it's difficult to do because of so many traps in the bay.

Harpswell fishermen usually have anywhere from one hundred to twelve hundred traps. Some lobstermen used to have more.

Cliff used to go lobstering all year, but he doesn't do that now. Roy has his boat in the water all year except for when he's painting or repairing it.

Every lobsterman doesn't have a helper on his boat, but having a sternman makes the work go quicker. However, it can be done alone. Some women go lobstering or work as helpers too. In Maine the law has been passed that a lobsterman can have only 1200 traps. If someone already has more than than that, he has seven years to reduce his traps to 1200. This is being done so that the water doesn't become overfished. Cliff feels that there are a lot more lobsters now than there used to be. He also thinks that the increase in traps has provided more food for lobsters and that it has helped them to multiply. Roy mentioned that in the past traps that were in muddy areas would have only crabs in them. Now those traps have lobsters. There are a lot more traps than when Clifford was younger, but lobstermen are making a better living now than in the past.

Both Roy and Clifford have doubts about whether the new laws will really help lobstermen. Clifford said, "When the government gets into things, it usually messes things up."

Roy said, "They don't always know what they're doing and they won't take the advice of people in the industry."

Every year lobstermen have to repair their boats and gear. They have to do painting, repair work, check traps, and paint buoys. Sometimes they have to work on the engine of their boat.

A lobstermen co-op is like a small business. Several lobstermen get together to work as a group. They sell lobsters and buy fuel and supplies at a reduced rate. Cliff and Roy are in the same co-op. Cliff was one of the founders of the organization. There are presently fourteen lobstermen in this co-op.

Roy and Cliff both like being their own boss. Roy said, "If you're your own boss, you can work as hard as you want and when you want." Then he laughed and said, "Which is usually all the time." Both men agree that they like the way that lobstermen help each other. Roy said, " You've got a small group of guys that are all different and all are independent, but they have one