SOUTH ADDISON, Maine — The tour boat is noisy — after all, it is not a fancy, sleek number with padded seats, a coffee station or a foul-weather canopy. It is a working, commercial lobster boat.
But the Honey B has a split personality: One day it is hauling lobster pots and the next it is giving visitors a tour around Eastern Harbor and beyond.
The tourists photograph Atlantic puffins.
They are enchanted by sunbathing harbor seals.
But what they really want is an authentic fishing experience, Capt. Paul Ferriero says.
“This is what they want to know — how we work; how we fish; how we haul pots,” Ferriero said as he piloted the 34-foot fishing boat on Wednesday.
As he pointed to the miles of pristine coastline rolling past, he said, “Look at the million-dollar homes. Nobody local can afford the waterfront property anymore. All of these people are from away.”
Those “from away” are naturally curious about the commercial activity taking place on the sea outside their front doors, he said.
“It became a natural shift,” he said, “to diversify.” For the past four years, Ferriero has offered tours as a sideline to supplement his lobstering income.
The economic comparison is simple:
One 1-pound lobster equals $3.50.
One passenger to Petit Manan equals $60.
He’s an experienced fisherman, having worked the sea for 45 years, beginning as a clam digger at age 12, and later as a commercial diver and fisherman in Massachusetts.
“But it became more and more difficult to make a living there. Too many wealthy people were buying up the coast, and there are now more pleasure boats than fishing vessels,” he said.
So he moved to Maine in 1990, began diving for scallops, and got in on the sea urchin boom. “It was very profitable for a while. I made enough to buy my lobster boat.”
Then the price of fuel shot through the roof.
And then the price of herring for bait soared.
Ferriero said that a serious lobsterman can spend $200 a day on bait and $100 to $200 a day on fuel depending on the type of boat.
Meanwhile, at 58, Ferriero was getting older. “I had a knee replaced last winter,” he said. “To a man, lobstermen have problems with their shoulders, their knees, their hips. You are constantly working on one side of your body, handling the traps.”
He said that even standing at the wheel, working to keep your balance on a choppy day, can be physically demanding.
“It isn’t that I don’t do lobstering as much, rather it is that it’s no longer as profitable,” he said.
So instead of making a living just fishing for lobsters, he makes a living showing others how he makes a living fishing for lobsters.
“For many people it is their first time out here on the ocean, and it is thrilling for them,” he said.
As the Honey B putt, putt, putts through the water during this particular tour, Ferriero points out the landmarks: the Ladle, Nash Island, Birch and Raspberry islands, Pond Island Lighthouse, Jordan’s Delight.
He names the birds — bald eagles, terns, guillemots, Atlantic puffins — and points out the pods of harbor seals, including several newborns, sunning on a rocky outcrop.
Another lobster boat, the Outer Limits, chugs by, and the crews wave companionably to each other.
Lobstermen in this part of the state have not had the territorial problems that others sometimes have experienced along the midcoast where turf wars have resulted in boats and traps being vandalized and fishermen being attacked and shot at.
At some of the remote islands along Ferriero’s tour, the sounds of the gulls and terns are loud enough to be heard over the boat.
When asked how he feels when he is at the helm out at sea, Ferriero smiled widely.
“It feels like I’m where I’m supposed to be,” he said.
“I know that most people are quite interested in commercial lobstering, but it seems pretty normal for me,” Ferriero said. Every year, Ferriero puts out 400 lobster pots.
On this sunny spring morning, he pulled up close to his white-and-black buoys and hooked their connecting rope, catching it on the winch and allowing the motor to pull the two attached traps up 90 feet to the surface.
Ferriero pulled six traps for his passengers. One held only a couple of crabs. One was empty. There were lobsters in the other four, but they were quickly determined to be too small to keep. Everything went back to the sea. Under state law, lobsters must measure 3¼ inches minimum and 5 inches maximum from the eye to just above the tail.
It was a quick lesson in just how unforgiving this profession can be.
Still, Ferriero is optimistic. “I think there will be plenty of lobsters but they will be small,” he said referring to this summer’s lobstering season. He added that the price he gets from lobster dealers is so low — now about $3.50 a pound — that lobstering is hardly worth it.
“And so I take passengers,” he said. He also offers salt marsh trips up the Pleasant River to supplement his income. Ferriero said lots of lobstermen diversify: doing carpentry in the winter, working in the woods and raking blueberries in the summer.
“Everyone is stretched to the max,” he said, after more than two years of record low lobster prices and high fuel costs.
The industry attributed the sudden drop in lobster prices in 2008 to many factors, all linked to the global economy. Because frozen, processed lobster is purchased by cruise ships and casinos, the pullback on spending for luxury goods by consumers decreased demand.
That situation was compounded by limited credit availability that shut down major Canadian processors, which purchase a large percentage of Maine’s lobster harvest.
“Diversification becomes a way to survive,” Ferriero said.
Pleasant River Boat Tours may be reached at 598-6993 or www.pleasantriverboattours.com.