Working Waterfront

A working waterfront is far more complex than just one ocean-related industry. Many different business interests coordinate their efforts to both harvest and sustain the sea life they market.

Jonesport is home to a wide variety of waterfront businesses. Most are very traditional and have been pursued as long as people have lived in the area. Modern materials and techniques enhance the output to market as well as the sustainability of various sea-sourced products. To read more about some of the waterfront professions plied here, see below.

Lobster Fishing

This can easily be said to be the major waterfront business plied in Jonesport. There are numerous lobster fishing boats and wharves to service them, but relatively few boats work all year. Most go out during the peak season, which is considered to be the "inshore" season because the lobsters migrate to warmer, shallower waters closer to shore. The "offshore" lobster fishermen are the ones who go out to much deeper waters and can work all year. Lobsters are caught by traps designed to let only those lobsters of a certain size remain inside. Those which are too small may come and go and those which are too large can't go into the trap at all. Traps are set out in groups or "strings" and marked by buoys which bear the lobster fisherman's colors for easy identification. The bait used is often decaying fish since the "smell" attracts lobsters quickly. Once the traps are set and baited, they are hauled periodically to remove the harvest and resupply the bait. Lobsters are inspected for legal size and immediately returned to the ocean if they are not appropriate. Those going to market will have their claws banded to make handling them safer since a lobster's large claw can easily break a human finger. Female lobsters which have eggs attached to their undersides are also immediately returned to the ocean to ensure sustainable lobster populations in the future. In recent years it has not been unusual to see annual lobster harvests of up to 400,000 pounds in the Jonesport area. Those which are not sold immediately to a wider market are kept in "pounds" and tended until the market is ready for the supply.

Scallop and Quahog Dragging

This is a very seasonal winter business and highly regulated. Not only are the sizes of the harvested scallops and quahogs closely monitored, the number of days a boat can work as well as the amount it can harvest on a given day is specified. Dragging boats use nets to scour the sandy bottom of local waterways for these bivalves. When the nets are emptied, workers quickly check the harvest for size and return any which don't qualify immediately to the water. Scallops are interesting in that they are the only bivalve that is thought to migrate and can freely swim by opening and closing their shell. They eat plankton and can live a very long time - up to 20 years. They have about 100 tiny eyes that ring the shell opening and can discern light and shadow. This probably helps determine when a predator swims above it. When harvested, scallops are shelled before the boat returns to shore and sold to local and wider markets. Harvested quahogs are kept in the shell and often referred to as mahogany mussels due to their dark shell color. They are considered a deep-water clam because they remain submerged and can be used in the same ways as other clams for recipes. Quahogs also have a long lifespan and are closely regulated to be sure the populations are sustainable. Those harvested in Maine are considered more of a delicacy than those from deeper waters offshore and are prized as "steamers", or clams cooked by steaming.

Digging Clams

Clams can be dug from our shores for much of the year, but winter ice finally keeps clammers from plying their trade. Clams are dug by hand using special tools that allow the harvester to roll a section of mud over and expose the clams. These bivalves can burrow quite deeply and move deeper surprisingly quickly when disturbed. Digging clams is very hard manual labor, often done in mud that is difficult to walk in. It can only be done when the tide is low, which can be during the day or night, and since Jonesport shares some of the highest tides in the Northeast clamming can be dangerous if the harvester ventures too far out from shore when the tide is due to come in. Only clams of a certain size are taken and harvesters make sure they leave enough of a clam bed to regenerate the supply for the next year and allow the clams to thrive. Once clams are dug, they can be kept alive for quite a long time in a seawater tank if they are rotated in and out of the water on approximately a 12-hour basis, simulating the tide. If left in the water, clams will actually drown. Some buyers prefer to have their clams "purged" which means using the seawater tank for several days so that the clam can expel any sand it has in its digestive system.

Urchin Diving and Draging

Urchins are in the same family as sand dollars and sea cucumbers, but urchin roe is considered a delicacy in many cultures. These small, spiny creatures move slowly along the ocean floor and eat algae. They can move their spines to point toward a perceived threat and use hollow "legs" to move. Green urchins are the ones harvested off the coast of Jonesport, usually from waters up to 40 feet deep and from areas with a rocky bottom and a nearby kelp bed.

Picking Periwinkles

Periwinkles are small snails with shells that eat algae and seaweed in the area between high tide and low tide. They are found on rocks and usually bunch together. Harvesting them means "picking" them off the rocks. They are also called "wrinkles" locally and are a delicacy in Asian cultures. For Jonesporters, the best way to eat a wrinkle is to pickle it. Around 90% of the periwinkles harvested in Maine come from the Washington County coastline.

Digging Sea Worms

Sea worms are usually called by the name of the worm when they are dug from the shallows of local coves. There are blood worms and sand worms. Both are used as live bait for recreational fishing. Bloodworms are pinkish in color, carnivorous, look vaguely like an earthworm gone mad, and secrete a poison from their hollow jaws which is painful to humans.They can grow up to 14" long and burrow into the sand or silt at the edge of the ocean. Sandworms can be much larger, growing up to 4 feet long, and have "legs" along the sides of their bodies making them look a little like centipedes. They have fierce-looking pincers on their blue heads but rarely bite humans, and they eat seaweed and microscopic sea life. People who harvest the worms must dig with hand tools in the muddy, sandy, coves and shallows to find the worms and bring them to market. It is hard labor often done in cold, bad weather or the dead of night in order to collect the worms while they are "in season".

Gathering Seaweed

Rockweed is the type of seaweed harvested in the waters around Jonesport. Specially designed boats and rakes are used to cut the floating seaweed no closer than 16" to its anchor on the rocks. Then the rockweed is lifted into the boat until there are five or six tons on board. A seaweed harvester usually makes several trips per day from May to September, so the bulk of harvesters are young men. Most of the seaweed gathered in Jonesport goes into fertilizers and animal feed, but small amounts go into products you would never suspect like toothpaste, chocolate milk and sweet treats like jam.

Netting Elver Eels

Elvers, glass eels, or fykes all refer to the tiny and almost transparent young American eel that migrates from the Sargasso Sea to Maine on warm ocean currents. They swim upstream to freshwater lakes where they grow to maturity and then they return to the ocean to spawn. The young eels are caught on their way upstream by either hand dip nets or fabricated funnel nets and sold alive to Asian markets. The Asian eel farms raise them until they are mature and then sell them to restaurants.

Boat Building

Historically, boats were made from wood with beams shaped by steam. There is only one boat builder left in our area, perhaps in New England, who fashions working and pleasure boats from wood by hand. All others are made from fiberglass shaped in huge forms or, for older boats getting a make-over, fiberglass over a wooden hull. There are several skilled boat builders in the Jonesport area and they stay quite busy most of the time doing major repairs that keep our working boats on the water or making new boats to the customer's specifications.

Lobster and Crab Trap Building

Without traps, or pots as they are called locally, there would be no lobster fishing. In the past, traps were made from wooden slats with a flat bottom and a rounded top. Now they are made from a very sturdy wire mesh, coated with materials that keep the mesh from rusting. Lobster pots are now rectangular and can be fairly large and heavy. Many measure approximately 2' x 2' x 4' and can weigh 50 - 100 pounds. They are outfitted with vents that allow undersized lobsters to escape the trap, netting that guides the legal-sized ones to the "bedroom" where they wait to be harvested, and the bait that draws them in and feeds them. Crab traps are much smaller and less frequently deployed, but supply quite a bit of fresh crab meat for local pickers to send to market.


Working wharves are the backbone of our working waterfront. During the lobstering season, they often operate from 4 AM to 7 PM in tandem with the fleet of lobstering boats going out to sea and returning with their harvest. Live lobsters are unloaded from the boats and distributed to market in an astonishingly short time. Much care is taken to retain the health of the lobsters as they are moved through the process of getting them from the ocean to the end user. Fishermen usually sell their catch to the same wharf each year and often purchase their fuel and bait from the wharf as well. Many wharves operate in a co-op style where the fishermen earn a percentage of the wharf's profit on an annual basis. During other seasons, many wharves process clams, quahogs, and scallops. One concentrates on getting mahogany mussels to market. Throughout the year, our wharves serve as the bridge between the fishermen and the market for their products. It is a demanding position but one that is served with pride.

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