For five years this book was a gleam in the eyes of the people who participated in the Penobscot Bay Collaborative. Because it was a “deliverable” of that federally funded, multi-year effort, everyone knew it would one day make its appearance, at the end of the project’s fifth and final year.

Boxes of Lobsters Great and Small arrived just in time for the Collaborative’s final scientific meeting in Rockland. Nearly 50 copies were handed out to researchers, lobster fishermen, state officials and government funders on May 2, only hours after they had been printed and bound. While the last-minute arrival may have seemed a bit too dramatic for the weary writers, editor, designer and printer who had worked on the project, the book was well received and the comments – so far – have been very good.

Officially, Lobsters Great and Small is a report on Penobscot Bay Collaborative and its findings. In fact, it’s considerably more than that: while the book chronicles much of the work of the project’s various researchers, it’s really a slice of life in the Penobscot Bay region of Maine, where a largely self-regulating lobster fishery has thrived for generations as other fisheries have failed and even disappeared.

In language as accessible as possible, the book tackles the big questions: Why are there so many lobsters in Penobscot Bay? Where do they come from? Where do they breed, lay their eggs, drift on currents and eventually settle on the bottom? What about those currents? What roles do water temperature, salt content, bottom geology and other factors play?

To find answers to these and other questions, the Island Institute, with federal support from NOAA, signed up a dozen scientists and more than 100 lobster fishermen who already worked in the region and knew it well. It was an unusual enterprise, to say the least – the history of fisheries in the United States is often the story of distrust and miscommunication between fishermen and scientists, after all – but in this case the parties made it work. Together the Collaborative’s members assembled a vast amount of data on homarus americanus, the American lobster, and how it functions in the environment of Penobscot Bay. While trawl-survey and dockside data have been gathered for decades in some places, information on this scale had never been collected in so many places, in so many different forms or at so many scales. Data came aboard boats as sea-samplers examined lobster fishermen’s traps; scuba divers and scientists in submersibles videotaped lobsters in their habitat; sidescan sonar aboard research vessels collected images of the bottom; automated buoys sensed temperature and other variables and sent it home via cell phone; satellites collected data from space; experts in GIS (geographic information systems) assembled and integrated data from all sources; statisticians with computers began building a “model” for predicting what might happen to lobster populations in the future.

Authors Philip Conkling and Anne Hayden, as well as several other contributors, set out to write a book that summed up the work of five field seasons, encapsulating the researchers’ findings while being readable and easy to look at. Their job – and the task of their editor – wasn’t simple: chapters must describe the work of the participating scientists accurately and completely without lapsing into jargon or terminology that would “put off” the lay public. The book had to be clear to the educated (but not necessarily scientific) reader; it couldn’t be “dumbed down.” All chapters were read by the researchers whose work was being described; where necessary, they were edited or re-written to ensure accuracy. In addition to the chapters the book includes numerous sidebars – boxed sections, often illustrated with photos, profiling researchers, fishermen and their work.

Lobsters Great and Small is also a book of photographs and other graphic elements. It includes a substantial amount of color photography by Nick Caloyianis (underwater) and Peter Ralston (above the water), as well as drawings, GIS images, maps, historic pictures and images derived from satellite data.

David D. Platt is editor of Working Waterfront. He was also editor of Lobsters Great and Small.

Lobsters Great and Small
By Philip Conkling and Anne Hayden
Island Institute, with Down East Books, Rockland, Maine, 2002
Soft cover, 120 pages * $24.95