Late spring and early summer is lobster (‘gliomaigh’) time in West Mayo, and a few weekends ago, the combination of sunny weather, street music and outdoor drinking meant there were plenty of happy gliomaigh to be seen enjoying the festival atmosphere at Féile Chois Cuain in Louisburgh.
Further west, about 300 yards outside the beach, a series of bright orange buoys punctuated the sheet-blue sea, spread out over a kilometre like a cheap decoration on the calm, motionless water. Attached to each buoy below the surface was a string of pots which lay along the seafloor, and inside them (hopes the fisherman), a group of lobsters, now cursing their hungry curiosity and astute dexterity in seeking out food in hard to reach places.
Lobsters move in from the deep at this time of year, and such calm seas and settled weather are a godsend to the fisherman. If even a small swell is present, navigation, not to mention lifting pots in such shallow waters, which are bedevilled by dangerous reefs lurking just below the surface, quickly becomes dangerous.
The following day, like a honey-bee visiting the brightest flowers in a garden, a boat moved between the vibrantly coloured buoys, pausing briefly at each one to check its bounty, and removing the valuable nectar.
Its not just a case of emptying the contents of the pot into the hold of the boat, however. These days, a small bit of conservation science must first be attended to. Each lobster is checked for a distinctive v-notch, which is made by fishermen, who liaise with Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), in the tail of female lobsters. If a lobster contains a v-notch, it is returned live to the sea.
Lobsters generally breed and moult in alternating years; this v-notching practise thus ensures that the lobster has an opportunity to breed before the notch grows out of its tail after a couple of years. The fishermen are happy to do it, as it means more lobsters for the future. BIM reports show that around Mayo at least, it is working and improving stocks.
We at Irish Marine Life were asked recently as to whether it is legal or not for an individual to set their own pots. The best information suggests that it once you limit yourself to four pots, you are not considered commercial and can try your luck without hassle. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll catch any gliomaigh; local knowledge is needed to know where to drop your pots and what bait to use. You’ll also need to get suitably sized pots to ensure that you, or indeed your vessel, doesn’t tip over when pulling them back in.