Why some lobster boats have a new look this year

Some fishermen are installing canopies over the formerly open decks behind the wheel house. Turns out there's an important reason for it, based on lobster biology.

Fishermen are putting canopies over the formerly open deck

Metal canopies give the iconic P.E.I. lobster boat a new look. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Some lobster fishing boats are sporting a new look this year.

Fishermen are installing canopies over the formerly open deck behind the wheel house. It's all about keeping the catch fresher — and tastier.

"For lobster quality," said Lyman Getman, a fisherman in Tignish, P.E.I. "Keep the sun off them. Keep them cool."

The removable tops are becoming an increasingly common sight in Tignish and at other ports around the Island.

Government support

At least part of their popularity can be chalked up to a cost-sharing program that was rolled out earlier this year. Under the Atlantic Fisheries Fund, Ottawa and the province are paying part of the cost when fishermen install new equipment on boats, including canopies and insulated lobster holding tanks, to improve lobster quality.

Turns out those feisty crustaceans tend to be delicate creatures. Not only are they vulnerable to sun. Even rain drops take a toll, according to scientists.

"The canopies are great in terms of keeping rain off of the lobster," said Melanie Giffin, marine biologist and program planner with the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association. "Ultimately, rain is fresh water. Lobsters survive in salt water."

Melanie Giffin is a marine biologist and program planner with the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

About 200 fishermen have signed on to the cost-sharing program so far. It also covers installation of the insulated holding tanks which keep lobster cool, helping them conserve energy.

"Sometimes when a lobster comes in, you pick them up, they don't have good defensive posture," said Giffin.

"If their claws aren't going in the air, if their tail's not going up, and instead they're just kind of hanging limp, then you know that there was something that probably reduced their vitality on board the vessel."

The fishermen's association says it will look for feedback from processing plants to see if the new gear on boats is helping keep P.E.I. lobster fresher.

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