Three generations of lobster fishing Jollimores

On an early spring morning in French River Jimmy Jollimore wakes to see the sunrise over New London Bay. He then heads down Jollimore Lane to the boat that will carry three generations of his family to the lobster grounds.

Jollimores work together in the family business

On an early spring morning in French River Jimmy Jollimore wakes to see the sunrise over New London Bay. He then heads down Jollimore Lane to the boat that will carry three generations of his family to the lobster grounds. 

"It goes back five generations, at least," said Jimmy, who has 60 years of fishing in so far. "My grandfather, my father and myself. Two sons with gears of their own and one son here with me is three. Sons and grandsons. Brought up to be fishermen, I guess."

Jimmy started fishing in 1953. He eventually purchased a boat with his brother, then his own boat and traps. When he wanted to slow down a bit he moved over to another of his family's boats as a crew member.

But once a captain, always a captain.

These days, Jimmy, his son Calvin and his grandson Chris fish aboard Mama's New Shoes. When Jimmy and his grandson Chris purchased the operation seven years ago, Chris convinced his dad, a mussel farmer, to fish with them. 

I was expecting one, two years. This is year seven.- Calvin Jollimore on fishing with his father and son

"I said [to my Dad], 'If you want to buy a gear, Christopher, my son, wants to fish. You can fish it.'" said Calvin. "But the only condition was that I had to fish with them. I was expecting one, two years. This is year seven."

Big business

Over 60 years fishing has become big business. Jimmy has seen it go from pennies-per-pound to a multi-million dollar industry.

"The first boat we bought was a second-hand boat, was $300," said Jimmy. "The first new boat I bought in 1965 was $2,245."

The boat Jimmy and his family currently use costs more than $125,000. Jimmy said part of the reason for the increase in price is the new equipment on board. Jimmy and his generation never used hydraulics or global positioning systems, but used local landmarks to locate their traps. 

For newer fishermen like Chris, it can hard to learn the older styles of fishing.

The Jollimores have been fishing in New London bay on P.E.I. for five generations. Three generations now fish on the same boat. (Julia Cook/ CBC)
"When we first started it was difficult because Grampy wanted to teach me his way. Pure landmarks, memory. Crazy how sharp their minds are," said Chris. "Me being newer, growing up with electronics, how I work and how everybody else works and you can't get him to understand how to use either, so bit of give and take each way."

The equipment used for lobster fishing isn't the only thing that's changed over 60 years. When Jimmy first started, the only lobster that was caught were smaller canners. Since then the higher-valued and larger market lobster was introduced.

Winter out west

"We got 18 cents a pound for canners and 23 for markets," said Jimmy. "Money was scarce. I guess it was a good price. Everybody got by on it."

This year prices are about $3.75 per pound for canners and about $4.25 for market.

Calvin said that's an ideal price for lobster.

"If it stays somewhere in that $3.75 to $4 range, you're not getting rich at it , but you're going to be able to survive and make your payments."

Jimmy said despite the uncertainty of lobster fishing, there are many, like his family, who have stuck with it. 

It's pretty near time to put the feet up.- 75-year-old Jimmy Jollimore

"A lot of people go fishing, but they're all looking to get to become millionaires. It's a hard job. You never know what you're going to get. It could be a good day, it could be a bad day. It could blow, rain and that's not very nice when it's raining. I hate it out here when it's raining, but I always stuck with it."

Jimmy is willing to admit that it's harder now for younger people now because it's expensive.

"Gradually they're phasing out because they're going some place else. They can't afford it, they can't afford to get into it. The price of lobsters and nothing else to catch."

For those young people who do fish lobster, it often means having to go out west to find work during the winter.

"This past winter was the first year I went out west," said Chris. "Couldn't make enough through the summer, fall, spring seasons fishing. I was fishing, I had nothing set aside to get through waiting for unemployment. The bills just stacked up too high."

Chris said it was a hard decision to make.

"Really first time I've left my family, let alone leave a wife and kids behind, so it was tough to do that."

Now, Chris is back on P.E.I. and watching his own sons take an interest in lobster fishing.

Freedom on the water

Calvin said it's been nice to see his own grandson take an early interest in lobster fishing, as well as see his father continue to love what he does.

"When you get into June and the catch starts to taper off and he's standing there with the measure in the hand, just waiting to get a hold of a lobster. That'll stay with me," said Calvin.

Jimmy doesn't know how many more years he'll be fishing.

"Looks like I'm getting to the end of my time. Seventy-five now, so it's pretty near time to put the feet up."

"I'd like to go for two or three more years to make 65 out of it, but I don't know," said Jimmy.

Jimmy said even though it's a tough job, you can't beat a day on the water.

"It's freedom. Nobody to boss you around out here. You can do what you like."