Setting Day on Prince Edward Island can only mean one thing…..it heralds the opening of the spring lobster fishery and a fresh feed of PEI lobster from the cold Atlantic waters will follow soon after!
Lobster fishers spend many weeks in advance of Setting Day preparing their lobster traps and fishing boats for the upcoming season.
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, I visited six Island wharves in the two days leading up to Setting Day.
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.
I’m not sure I could figure out the ropes of this business but they sure are colorful!
So, too, are the many different colors of buoys.
PEI has two lobster seasons. The first runs from 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.
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.
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.
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 lay the traps to catch the lobsters.
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.
The last couple of years, I have headed to French River which is about 45 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 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 charge out to sea to the cheers and delight of the bystanders! If you have never stood on a beach on PEI at sunrise and watched dozens of lobster boats heading out to work, you have missed a magical and moving experience.
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 this year.
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!
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.
Heading for a “parking spot” to unload the catch.
Unloading the day’s catch.
Here’s a look at what’s in those crates!
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.
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.
Once I have had that first feed of lobster, I am ready to use it as an ingredient in other dishes.
I have several published recipes using lobster as the main ingredient, including the following:
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 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.
And, other times, the fishers get to see the most amazing sunrises!
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…..now, where is that lobster bib…….