What's the Catch?

A chat on the water with Maine lobsterman Eric Pray
October 5, 2017Words by Evan WilliamsPhotos By Jeff Masamori

While shooting our Fall Catalog in and around Portland, Maine, we took a ride on the Lady Catherine, owned and operated by father-son lobstering duo Peter and Eric Pray (childhood friend of our own Ben O’Meara) in Casco Bay for a behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of a lobsterman. In-between pulling traps and learning to put lobsters to sleep (hint: tickle their bellies), we got a few questions in edgewise:

Lobstering by the #’s

$20,000
Spent on bait a year

$2 Million
Cost to start up your own lobster shing business

40 Years
How long the Prays have been in the lobster business

400 Lbs
Average daily lobster haul on the Lady Catherine

15 Years
Average wait time to get a lobstering license in Maine

 

Why don’t you wear your wedding ring out on the water?

You can get it snagged on a piece of wire that might be rusted off the trap, or it could get caught in the hydraulic hauler. Basically, your ring gets caught, and you’re pushing something overboard, that ring could take you, or take your hand right off.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever pulled up in a trap?

Every time we pull up a lobster trap, it’s like opening a Christmas present. Once we pulled up a Native American axe head that was dated over 4,000 years old. It’s actually on display in the Maine State House now. It’s one of the biggest axe heads ever found in Maine, probably a good 18-20 inches long.

What makes a good lobster?

It’s all about the season. In the summer, the water’s warmer, and they shed their shells. It’s a sweeter meat, because they get exposed to more salt water.

Have you ever thought about doing something else for a living?

I’ve already walked away from this four times since college. Small sabbaticals. But I always get drawn back in. You know, I grew up on the water. I can’t see myself working in an office. It’s just an addiction, you know?

How do you wind down after a long day out on the water?

A few cold beers, a cold shower, and then I just relax with my two kids and my wife. If I take a warm shower when I get off the boat, I instantly want to take a nap.

Any advice for getting started in the lobster business?

If you want to get into the industry, get into the management.

We heard your dad, Peter, fellt in the water once in the middle of winter. What happened there?

He was shoveling off the float, and it was low tide.The snow drifts went off the dock, so the top part of the water was kind of frozen over, but salt water doesn't technically freeze. So he thought the snow drift on top of the water was part of the dock. He stepped down onto it and went through the water. His feet got stuck in the mud, and I think it was mid-February. He had all his foul weather gear on, so once that all fills up with water it's pretty hard to get out. So we had to drag him out and hose him off to warm him up. That water's basically just above freezing.

Tell us a joke

Out on the boat, if it was raining I'd always say, "The rain is really coming down!" He'd always respond, "Have you ever seen it go up?"

Most surprising thing about lobstering

Pulling up every trap is like opening a present — you never really know what you're going to get.

Favorite way to prepare a lobster?

It's called Lazy Man Lobster — basically you just pick all the meat off at the beginning, prepare it on a dish with melted butter. That's it.

Do you ever get boat envy?

Oh yeah. You've seen our boat, its an older boat. You see these new boats now - there's a lobster boat race this weekend here in Portland, and you'll see some of the best boats in the state of Maine coming up for it. It's insane. But yeah, I wish we had a 50 foot boat that goes 40 knots. That'd be awesome. 

That sounds awesome - tell us more about the lobster boat race

Every sumnmer, all through Downeast Maine they have 30-40 lobster boats and they all do a race in a different place each weekend. It's something like 200 yards start to finish. There are 4-5 boats in each heat, and they range in boat size. They just go gung-ho and they have a trophy ceremony at the end of hte year. It's like boat tailgating — everyone loads there boats up with their friends, beers, barbecuing. Havent been in the last few years but we're going this year. There's one right here in Portland harbor.

If you weren't in the lobster industry, what do you think you'd have ended up doing?

I'd probably be owning my on restaurant — I'd still like to in the future.

When are you happiest?

Basically just having no unpredictable financial burdens. Between the boat bills and everything else. When the market - the lobster market - is good and the price isnt going down and the tourists are coming to Maine and eating our lobster, it means more money in our pocket. It's been crazy this year, the transition on the boat went out.

What's on your bucket list?

Travel more. First place, Finland. My wife has a bunch of Finnish relatives. And then going to Alaska and doing some hunting and fishing up there.

When you go on vacation, do you try to get a break from the water?

Actually, I like to stay near the water. After growing up near it, it just feels right. I like going inland, but I can find plenty to do around water. 

Do you think you'll keep on lobstering for a while?

Yeah, my wife always asks me, "How much longer are you going to keep doing this?" Right now there's a 15 year waiting list for a lobster license. So it's kind of like a dying industry even though so many people want to get into it. It's so hard unless you have a boat that's payed off, or deep pockets. It makes it hard to walk away. I can't see myself working in an office. It's just an addiction. You work for yourself, you're working on the water. I get to make my own schedule. 

What's it like working with your father?

We get a little competetive sometimes. We don't always see eye to eye [laughs].

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