Setting Day on Prince Edward Island Can Only Mean One Thing

Setting Day
Setting Day, French River, PEI

Setting Day on Prince Edward Island can only mean one thing… heralds the opening of the spring lobster fishery and a fresh feed of PEI lobster from the cold waters that surround our Atlantic Canada region will follow soon after!

Lobster in the Shell


lobster traps
Lobster Traps at French River, South Landing Wharf, PEI, Canada

Lobster fishers spend many weeks in advance of Setting Day preparing their lobster traps and fishing boats for the upcoming season.

Malpeque Harbour, PEI
Lobster Boats at Malpeque Harbour, PEI, Canada

As the time grows closer to Setting Day, visits to Island wharves are an interesting activity.  Boats, looking all spiffy, are in the water, and wharves are stacked high with traps just waiting to become the deep sea inns for lobster. This year (2017, when this post was originally written), I visited six Island wharves in the two days leading up to Setting Day.

Lobster Fishing Boats at Malpeque Harbour, PEI, Canada
Lobster Fishing Boats at Malpeque Harbour, PEI, Canada

I like to visit wharves the eve of Setting Day. The boats are heavy laden with traps, fishers are checking and double-checking their gear, and the conversations are animated with excitement and anticipation of the upcoming lobster season.  There will be claims as to who owns the fastest boat, who will sail out first, and so on. The mood is jovial and a lot of good-natured banter can be heard.

Lobster Fishing
Lobster Boats Loaded with Traps for Setting Day, North Rustico, PEI, Canada


Lobster Traps
Fishermen at Malpeque Harbour Check Their Lobster Traps in Preparation for Setting Day
Lobster Traps
Double-checking the Lobster Traps, Malpeque Harbour, PEI

I’m not sure I could figure out the ropes of this business but they sure are colorful!

Colorful Ropes

So, too, are the many different colors of buoys.

Colorful Buoys
Lobster Traps
Traditional Lobster Traps

PEI has two lobster seasons. The first runs from the end of April/early May until the end of June and the second from August until October.  Some claim (and I agree) that the lobster that is caught in the early season is the most tasty and tender as it comes from the colder waters.

Lobster Boats
Lobster Boats, New London Harbour, PEI, Canada

On PEI, the spring fishery tends to get the most attention because these are the boats that are first out of the gate to open the fishery season. There is a lot of hype associated with Setting Day.

Lobster Fishing
Boats Loaded with Lobster Traps for Setting Day, North Rustico, PEI, Canada

North Rustico is one of the more colorful fishing ports and draws a lot of summer tourists who enjoy watching the activity of the fishing boats.

Preparing for Setting Day
Eve of Setting Day in the Fishing Village of North Rustico, PEI, Canada

Regardless whether one is directly involved in the fishery or not, Setting Day is a big deal for many Islanders. This is the day that fishers head out with their boats for the first time in the season to drop, or lay, the baited traps to catch the lobsters.

Lobster Boat Loaded with Traps
Trap Setting Day

There are many wharves around the Island and the same common scene plays out – friends, neighbours, and family members get up long before daybreak and head to nearby wharves or beaches to watch the parade of boats as they head out with their loads of traps. It’s a sign of support to the fishers for the work they do.

Waiting for the Lobster Boats
Waiting for the Parade of Lobster Boats on Setting Day in French River, PEI, Canada

The last couple of years, I have headed to French River which is about 45 – 50 minutes from Charlottetown.  Boats are not permitted to leave the harbour until 6:00am but spectators need to be in place by about 5:40am, or before in some locales, as boats pull away from the wharves and get in to position for take-off and they lose no time when the clock strikes 6:00am. As one fisherman told me, come 6:00am, it’s “game on” and it’s very competitive as the boats head out to sea to the cheers and delight of the bystanders! If you have never stood on a beach or wharf on PEI at sunrise and watched dozens of lobster boats heading out to work, you have missed a magical and moving experience.

Parade of Lobster Boats
Early Morning Gathering in French River, PEI, to Watch Parade of Lobster Boats on Setting Day

In 2017, when this article is being written, Setting Day was on Saturday, April 29th. Island lobster fishers don’t fish on Sundays so the first haul from the traps will be on Monday. With the exception of Sundays, fishers check their traps daily during lobster season.  Close to 1000 boats were expected to leave the wharves on Setting Day in 2017.

Parade of Lobster Boats Heading out to Sea
Heading out to Drop off the Lobster Traps on Setting Day
Lobster Fishing Boats
Heading Out With a Load of Lobster Traps, French River, PEI

A few years ago, I happened to be in North Lake, in the Island’s eastern part of the province, mid-morning, as the lobster boats were coming back in with their daily catch. It’s a beehive of activity when they all arrive back in port with crates full of lobster!

Lobster Boat
Lobster Boat Loaded with the Day’s Catch, North Lake, PEI, Canada

North Lake is a large harbour and it’s really cool to watch the boats enter the port through this narrow entrance. Sometimes, it’s almost a traffic jam on the “North Lake Freeway” as the boats converge to come into the wharf with their catch.

Lobster Boat
Lobster Boat Arriving Back in Port with the Day’s Catch, North Lake, PEI, Canada

Heading for a “parking spot” to unload the catch.

Fishing Harbour
North Lake Harbour, PEI, Canada

Unloading the day’s catch.

Daily Catch
Unloading the Day’s Catch, North Lake, PEI, Canada

Here’s a look at what’s in those crates!

PEI Lobsters
Fresh Catch of the Day – PEI Lobsters

While there are many recipes that call for lobster as an ingredient, Islanders typically eat the steamed lobster straight from the shell for their first feed of the season.

Fresh PEI Lobster
Steamed Lobster in the Shell
Steamed Lobster
Lobster in the Shell
How to Eat Lobster, PEI Style
Cracking Open the Lobster

Served hot or cold, according to one’s preference, lobster is a divine treat when dipped in melted butter.  On PEI, lobster is most commonly served with potato salad, coleslaw, sometimes other kinds of salads and, of course, homemade rolls.

Potato Salad
My Island Bistro Kitchen’s PEI Potato Salad

You can find my recipe for potato salad here , for my pan rolls here, and for puffy dinner rolls here.

Lobster Dinner
Traditional PEI Lobster Dinner

Once I have had that first feed of lobster, I am ready to use it as an ingredient in other dishes.

Bowl full of chowder made with lobster, potatoes, and creamed corn
PEI Lobster Chowder

I have several published recipes using lobster as the main ingredient, including the following:

Lobster Chowder
Lobster Cakes
Lobster Rolls
Lobster Frittata
Lobster Club Sandwich
Lobster and Asparagus Crepes
Lobster Eggs Benedict

Lobster Cakes
PEI Lobster Cakes

Lobster is so popular in PEI that there are dining venues dedicated to offering Lobster Suppers during the summer season. Click here to read my story on Lobster Suppers – A Time Honored PEI Tradition.

And, of course, there is always the perennial favorite – Lobster Rolls! A couple of great places to get lobster rolls on PEI are Richard’s Seafood Eatery on the wharf in Covehead  and in Victoria-by-the-Sea and at Dave’s Lobster in Charlottetown.

And the great lobster that we enjoy comes thanks to the fishers who head out, sometimes in rolling seas, to fish the lobster.

Lobster Fishing
Lobster Fishing in all weather on PEI

And, other times, the fishers get to see the most amazing sunrises!

Setting Day
Heading Out With a Load of Lobster Traps

Lobster fishing is a big part of the Island culture and way of life. The seafood sector is one of PEI’s main industries.

As I finish this posting, the first catches of the season are in…, where is that lobster bib…….

Lobster Supper
A PEI Lobster Feed

Setting Day marks the beginning of the PEI lobster fishing season as fishers set their lobster traps in the water

Lobster Trap Setting Day on Prince Edward Island