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The parents of Lightning center Brad Richards make their living on the water.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published July 7, 2004
It was 4 a.m. when staff writer Damian Cristodero and his wife, Robyn, meet Glen and Delite Richards for a day of lobster fishing. The parents of Lightning center Brad Richards make their living on the water and like to get out early. As our intrepid adventurers discovered, the preposterously early wake-up call and the drive to the dock on the dark, narrow, two-lane roads of Prince Edward Island, one of Canada's Atlantic provinces, was worth it.
MURRAY HARBOR, Prince Edward Island - Some moments you just don't forget. And for Glen Richards, looking out from the bow of his boat over the glass-flat water of the Northumberland Strait, this was one of them.
Richards' family has trapped lobster in the waters about 5 miles off Prince Edward Island's southeast coast for three generations.
They have seen it all.
Glen even tells a story of his father Percey's alleged close encounter with a boat that came out of the fog with passengers waving as if calling for help.
As the story goes, Percey drove his boat closer to offer assistance. But on next glance, the boat had vanished.
A ghost ship? Glen said the vision so freaked out Percey's boat mate, he never again went on the water.
On this mid-June day, though, everything was crystal clear. It was close to 5 a.m. The sun peeked over the horizon and lit up the colorful buoys that marked the traps of myriad fishermen.
The air was cool, the coffee warm. And when the engine of Richards' 45-foot boat that carries the names of his children, Brad and Paige, was shut down, the silence only enhanced the magnificent views of Prince Edward Island and nearby Nova Scotia.
"The sun comes up. The water is like glass. It's your own day, your own time," Glen said. "On days like this, it's the best job in the world."
And it has gotten some cachet thanks to Brad, the Lightning's star center who was named playoff MVP after scoring a record seven winning goals in Tampa Bay's run to the Stanley Cup championship.
The family business was part of the playoff coverage when Glen attended Game 3 of the East semifinals against the Canadiens, and he and wife, Delite, were at Game 7 of the Cup final against the Flames.
Lobster season runs just 61 days in May and June, and every day away from the boat was a day's wage lost.
"You want to be involved with Brad all the time," Glen said," but you have to look after your fishing."
Glen said he steered Brad away from lobster fishing because of his son's love of hockey. That worked for Brad, who even before his star rose at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Saskatchewan and Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, never believed the 4 a.m. wake-ups, the nauseating rolling swells and battles with snapping crustaceans was part of his career plan.
"It's in your blood or not," Brad said. "It just wasn't for me. I respect what all those fishermen do. They work very hard. It just didn't get passed down to me."All in the family
The hook was long enough. The boat moved slowly enough. It seemed a no-brainer to snag the rope under the buoy that led to the six traps lying off Cape Bear Reef.
But a swoop of the hook attached to a 6-foot wooden pole was unsuccessful, and Glen had to swing the boat around to give me another try. Granted, it was my first time attempting the maneuver, but, geez, it was embarrassing how bad was the miss.
"Way to go, Brad," Glen yelled, playfully mocking me and his son, who apparently can be just as inept with the hook.
The second time was a charm and Delite grabbed the rope and spun it around a winch at the boat's stern that pulled the traps through 50 feet of water. Getting them into the boat was another story as each had to be hauled by hand into the vessel once they reached the side.
With the cement that holds each 4-by-2-foot trap to the bottom, the water-logged wood of which the traps are made and their contents, each trap weighed more than 100 pounds.
If dragging one onto the boat is a chore, requiring strong shoulders, backs and legs, imagine doing it 300 times a day. Now imagine doing it in cold, rainy weather on rough water.
Glen said each boat is allowed 300 traps. With six traps on a buoy, that's 50 buoys that must be serviced rain or shine.
"Okay," Glen said, "here comes No. 19."
Delite easily hooked the rope that hung from the buoy that wears Brad's jersey number. As she attached the rope to the winch, Glen shut down the engine and moved to the stern to begin a perfectly choreographed routine with his wife.
Glen hauled each trap from the water and slid them along the boat's top edge after which he and Delite unloaded the contents by hand. In addition to lobsters, crabs, fish and eel were snared.
The fish and eel were thrown back (greased pigs had nothing on those slippery beasts) as were most of the crabs, though the biggest were kept as a "by-product" of the hunt and would be sold.
The smallest lobsters were thrown back, too, and every now and then Delite yelled, "Grow up," before tossing one overboard. Others were thrown into a holding box to be measured.
Glen finished unloading the traps and Delite baited them, using for the day about 100 pounds of cut-up mackerel. The traps were tossed overboard, and while Glen drove to the next buoy, Delite measured lobsters along the length of their backs. By law, only sufficiently mature individuals can be kept. Any female with spawn under her tail also must be thrown back.
Keepers were separated; the small to be processed for meat, the large, a pound or more, to be sent to markets and restaurants.
On to the next buoy, where it began all over again. It was high-tempo, no-time-to-rest work. And it went like clockwork, except Getting little rubber bands around the claws could be quite a struggle. The lobsters weren't going along with the process, of course, and while being handled were looking to grab onto anything nearby, like fingers.
Every now and then Delite grabbed a lobster out of the holding box and came away with another clinging to the arm of her sweatshirt.
"The water is getting warmer now, so they're quite lively," Delite said. "In the spring you can do anything to them. Now, you have to watch out. You don't want your fingers removed."
Delite was a master with the hand tool that spreads the rubber bands wide enough to get them around the claws. Still, with one hand ready with a rubber band and the other attempting to close a ready-to-strike claw, Delite had to be quick and dexterous to avoid getting bitten.
Glen said on one trip Delite screamed and went to her knees in pain with a lobster attached to her right thumb. The attack through a pair of thick vinyl gloves left a bloody gash. Glen said the worst thing to do when bitten is try to fling the lobster off.
"Then they bite down even harder," he said. "They have the crusher claws and they have the cutter claws that can really get you. You have to fight through the pain and relax. Then it's easier to get it off."Afterparty
It wasn't the best day for Glen and Delite. The haul of 165 pounds was well off the 400 they said they trapped earlier in the week. And the day's biggest catch, a 4-pound female, had to be thrown back because the underside of its tail was loaded with spawn.
At rates from $6 to $8 per pound off the boat, that was like throwing $32 into the water.
"This isn't really what this should be for this time of year," Glen said. "I'm thinking of moving a few (traps) closer to the shore, but I don't know if I'll do any better."
The good news was it was 9:30 a.m. and the day's work was done. Delite brought home eight 1-pound lobsters. A feast washed down by ice cold beer followed, as did a parade of photos of their son, including one of Brad as an 8-year-old Halloween vampire.
A tip: Glen said it is better to order 1-pound lobsters at restaurants. The bigger the lobster, he said, the tougher the meat. You want 2 pounds of lobster? Glen said order two 1-pounders.
Glen said he never tires of eating lobster and cannot imagine working another job.
"It's a maritime way of life," said Glen, who spends winters servicing and building his traps. "It's something you don't see yourself not doing. I'd be lost without doing it. It's in your blood. You just keep going."
"I've got cousins and uncles doing it, too," Brad said. "I can never imagine myself doing it. But whatever they get is well deserved. They earn every penny."
And every mouthful.
[Last modified July 7, 2004, 01:04:13]