CUTLER, Maine – As the 32-foot Young Guns lobster boat made its way back into Cutler Harbor shortly after noon on Aug. 30, the crew made ready to unload their catch under a blue sky. There was barely a ripple in the harbor.
Jordan Drouin, 17, brought Young Guns alongside the float at the Little River Lobster Co. wharf, and he and his stepbrother, Colbath Warner — Maine’s youngest commercial lobster fisherman — busied themselves unloading the morning’s catch. A visiting cousin from out of town had joined them on the boat that day.
“Could have been better,” said Drouin, noting the 200 pound catch of the day.
The teens have grown up in Cutler, a Washington County coastal fishing village noteworthy for Little River Lighthouse on Little River Island. They are the sons and grandsons of fishermen.
Warner, 16, whose distinction as the state’s youngest commercial lobsterman was confirmed by a spokesman for the Department of Marine Resources, first spent time on a boat when he was about age 7 or 8. He recalled that he was probably around 10 when he began lending a hand. The stepbrothers have helped on their grandfather’s boat and also their father’s boat.
The brothers are students at Washington Academy in East Machias; Warner is a junior, and Drouin is a senior. Beginning the season in late spring, the two fish through September, working after school and on weekends. The season will often determine the location of the traps, with lobsters moving closer to shore as the water warms in the spring and summer. During the summer, they normally fish Monday and Tuesday, take off Wednesday, and haul again Thursday and Friday. In the winter, they take their traps and gear out of the water.
They obtained the boat, Young Guns, powered by a John Deere 220 hp diesel engine, in spring 2012 for $64,000. They are the third owners of the boat, built in 2002. They painted the bottom and added a stern table.
While this is their second boat, the brothers received their first one when they began working together about five or six years ago. They obtained student lobster fishing licenses as boys, eventually fulfilling the requirement for 1,000 hours of sea time working under other fishermen in order to qualify for a commercial license. Maine has about 5,300 commercial lobster fishermen.
“I like the money part,” said Warner, the more reserved of the two brothers, after their work at the wharf was done. “It’s good money, I guess, if you like, work at it … It’s kind of fun being out on the water all the time.”
After expenses — about $26 for a bushel of bait and diesel fuel nearly $4 a gallon for 69 gallons on a week’s worth of work — the brothers split their earnings 50-50. Depending on the type of lobster, the seafood company would pay $1.75-$4.75 per pound.
Drouin normally runs the boat, snagging the buoy, running the line through the pot hauler and retrieving the trap, although both brothers are equally qualified. Warner helps empty the trap, bait it, and returns it to the water. He also is responsible for handling multiple traps on a trawl from the back of the boat. While they are working, the brothers often keep a radio tuned to a country music station.
Warner is undecided about making a career out of being a fisherman, though. Drouin, however, has his heart set on it.
“I think I will [do this job for a living],” Drouin said. “I like the lifestyle. I love the water. … I think the only thing that would stop me from lobstering is if all the lobsters went away.”
He said that he has no desire to hold a white collar job or work in an office building.
Drouin acknowledged that there are risks associated with lobster fishing. One is when a line from sinking traps gets tangled in the feet or legs of a fisherman as it plays out from the boat. When they set a group of traps or trawl further off shore, the depth may be 300 feet, he noted.
“You’re not really going to survive [if you get pulled down],” said Drouin.
He referenced a story about a local fisherman that was snared in a line, went overboard and down into the water, but managed to get free and survive. For that reason, some fisherman keep a knife handy in order to be able to cut the line.
Asked about his father’s willingness to help them obtain financing to purchase the boat, Drouin said, “We’ve been doing this so long, and he knew we wanted to keep fishing.”
“This was their choice,” said their father, John Drouin. The teens gained experience — and traps — since boyhood fishing with their grandfather or with him, he noted.
The teens were even younger when they got their first boat, he acknowledged.
“We could see the maturity in them, and they were able to handle their end of it,” he added.
“Living in this area, the employment opportunities are far between,” noted Drouin, “so this is something we were hoping to set up if they wanted an opportunity for the future.”
For the older teen, his vision for the future is grounded in the life of a fisherman.
“I just like the water,” said Jordan Drouin. “I love being on the water. I like the lifestyle and just being out there. It’s fun to me, so. I guess. It’s in my blood,” he added with a laugh.