By Ed Staskus
It wasn’t breaking news that Prince Edward Island was an island. It was old news that it hadn’t always been one. It was news that didn’t matter to many folks who lived on the island. They weren’t overly concerned with the past. They cared about right now. They cared about heating oil being delivered on time. They checked the time the school bus was scheduled. They cared about the flat tire that stopped them dead in their tracks on the way to the grocery store. They cared about putting food on the table that day, but not about what made the tire go flat. They worried that prices were so low for lobster that fishermen were getting only 50 cents a pound for it.
It wasn’t news to the lobsters who lived in the ocean. They had been around much longer than the fishermen, farmers, and townsfolk who plied their trade on sea and shore. The crustaceans had seen it all, although they hadn’t seen amnesic shellfish poisoning before. The new toxin was killing Canadians who ate shellfish. No lobster ever went to any of their funerals. “That’s a dose of your own medicine,” Louie the Large said, chuckling to himself that the toxin wasn’t bothering his kith and kin.
Lobsters didn’t have a trade or much else to do, other than eat anything and everything they could all day and night. They hated crabs and crabs hated them and it was the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s whenever the shellfish ran into each other. The lobsters were bigger badder more determined and three of their five pairs of legs were outfitted with claws. They usually carried the day. Might makes right.
The number one rock ‘n’ roll band among the island’s lobsters was the B-52’s. They were the house band in their part of the world. Every lobster knew the lyrics to their ‘Rock Lobster’ song. The band had released it ten years earlier and when they did it shot up the charts, even though every single crab scorned it as the devil’s music.
“We were at the beach, everybody had matching towels, somebody went under a dock, and there they saw a rock, it wasn’t a rock, it was a rock lobster!”
Whenever a crab heard the song, it kicked sideways and cursed. They were happy to see the island’s fishing boats go after their country cousins in the spring. They showed up at every harbor for the blessing of the fleet on Setting Day and shouted “Godspeed!” when the boats broke the waves. There was no love lost between crabs and lobsters. “We don’t need no skunks at our lawn party,” the crabs said.
Even though lobsters could be bad as the wrong side of a Hells Angels bed, all they really wanted to do was eat and have some fun afterwards. They were always on the move, looking for a party.
“Havin’ fun, bakin’ potatoes.”
Prince Edward Island was known as Spud Island. It was no small potatoes when it came to the tuber. It was the smallest province but the top potato producing province in the country. Mr. Potato Head lived around every corner.
“Boys in bikinis, girls in surfboards, everybody’s rockin’, everybody’s fruggin’.”
Lobsters couldn’t move nearly fast enough to frug, but it didn’t matter. They got into the spirit of the song. They lived in concord among themselves ten months out of the year, except when one of them happened to eat another one of them. Two months of the year all bets were off. That’s when the island’s lobster boats went hunting for them. That’s when the angels sang. They didn’t like it, but they had to take their lumps like everybody else.
There were about 1200 boats sailing out of 45 harbors. More than three dozen boats came out of the North Rustico harbor alone. Every one of them was out to get them. Once they got them their fate was sealed. Every lobster knew it in its bones, even though all they had was an exoskeleton. Their inner selves had no bones. They were going to be boiled alive and there was nothing they could do about it.
“Double double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
Traps have escape vents to let shorts get away while still on the bottom. The under-sized lobsters who overstayed their welcome were thrown back into the ocean. Egg-bearing females were also thrown back. The female carried her eggs inside of her for about a year and then for about another year attached to the swimmerets under her tail. When the eggs hatch, the larvae float near the surface for a month. The few that survive eventually sink to the bottom and develop as full-fledged shellfish. For every 50,000 eggs generated two lobsters survive to grow up and go rocking.
Some diners wearing bibs argue that lobsters don’t have a brain and so they can’t and don’t feel pain. They have probably never seen their tails twitch like the mosh pit at high tide when they get thrown into a pot of boiling water. They weren’t twitching to the beat of the B-52’s. Their brains might not amount to much, but they had a nervous system. They reacted to pain physically and hormonally. The hormone they released when dying was the same one that human beings release when hurt. Cortisol is cortisol. They would have screamed if they could.
“How about coming down here with the rest of us,” they wanted to scream from the red hot mosh pit.
The Prince Edward Island seafood industry considered lobster to be their crown jewel. It was a gourmet delicacy known for its tender juicy meat. But that was like getting the Medal of Honor when you weren’t around anymore. Who needs to bask in that kind of glory? The only consolation lobsters had was that harvesters took care to manage their resource. They didn’t pull up over many of them in their traps. They were learning their lesson from what was happening to cod, which were disappearing fast.
It was a small consolation for Louie the Large and his clan. It only meant fishermen were in it for the long haul and weren’t going to change their minds about snatching them up anytime soon. The only consolation a lobster ever got was when somebody reached for it and the lobster was able to get the outstretched hand in its crusher claw.
“We were at a party, his earlobe fell in the deep, someone reached in and grabbed it, it was a rock lobster!”
When that happened, there was no quarter given. The lobster was going to sell its life dear. The hand was going to pay dear for sticking its nose where it didn’t belong. It should have stayed where it was before it ever came to the island. Why didn’t they stay in the Old World? What lobsters didn’t know was that fishermen came from the same place they came from way back when. They came from way down in the ocean. They weren’t ever going back. It was the New World. The sooner they got that through their thick heads the better.
“Lots of bubble, lots of trouble, rock lobster.”
Excerpted from “Blood Lines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.
Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”