If you were a lobster, would the color of trap wire or heads affect your decision whether or not to enter the trap? Would you be more likely to be caught in a two-parlor trap or one-parlor trap? How would you behave around other lobsters in the trap, both smaller and larger than yourself? These are some of the questions that students in Deer Isle-Stonington High School’s Marine Resources Technology Program are asking in their lobster behavior study.

In Tom Duym’s Marine Resources Technology I class, students have just finished putting the final touches on their lobster traps – some have put in crab vents, others have re-fitted heads and added plastic corners. The trap-building component of this behavior study has given the students the opportunity to test out and combine design ideas they have used in their own gear and have seen others using. Each student has designed and built two traps for this study, and no two traps are the same. Some differences among the students’ traps include variations in trap size, twine material and color, head configuration and vent locations.

In the lobster business there are as many ideas on what an ideal trap should be as there are lobster licenses. Junior Matt Shepard’s ideal trap is one with black wire and green heads. The first trap he built in the class is a standard four-footer with black wire and green heads, and will fit in well with his gang of over 400 mostly black and green traps. His second trap, however, has a different color combination, and has only three heads instead of the normal four. It also has a Nestea can in its parlor. (“I always put an iced tea can in the back of my traps,” Shepard explains.) Junior Cody Jones chose to test out the difference between two head materials. The heads in his first trap are made out of fine nylon mesh, and those in his second trap are made out of the more commonly used shrimp twine, which gives a larger mesh size. Both Shepard and Jones are anxious to put their traps in the tank and see for themselves how the lobsters react.

The students will test out their traps in an 1800-gallon aquaculture tank that they have assembled in a storage room adjoining the Marine Trades classroom. It is equipped with two filtration systems and a 12 Volt, 3,800-gallon-per-hour electric pump for circulating the water.

All that’s needed now for this study to get underway are the lobsters. Several local lobstermen will each be donating a few lobsters from their catch for this study. The goal is to stock the tank with 50 lobsters of varying sizes within the legal catch range.

The students will test their baited traps one at a time, and then, later, two at a time in the tank, with consistent trial periods. They will observe and record lobster behaviors through direct observation of traps in the tank, as well as from video surveillance during after-school hours. This study is designed to show which trap characteristics affect lobster behavior and how traps can be improved to boost catch rates. It will be a long-term study, and students will be responsible for monitoring and maintaining water quality in the lobster tank. At the end of the semester each student will have observed and recorded data on lobster behavior in different traps, analyzed this data, and written a final report. As a reward for their hard work and diligence, Plante’s, a fishing gear company in Somerville has offered to donate prizes to the student with the most comprehensive lab report, and to the builders of the most successful traps (i.e. traps with the highest lobster retention).

Tom Duym joined the faculty at Deer Island Stonington High School last year to run its Marine Resources Technology Program. Before DISHS, Duym taught in the Marine Technology Center at Washington County Technical College in Eastport. Since his arrival here, he has greatly increased the program’s reputation both within the school as well as in the greater community by inciting student interest and dedication. A longtime mariner, Duym teaches Seamanship, Navigation, Fisheries Ecology, Shoreline Economics, Boat Building (which he co-teaches with Dennis Saindon), and Marine Resources Technology I and II. According to Duym, “the goal when I came in was the preservation of fishing and marine occupation skills.” He now contributes to this goal by encouraging his students to look for new and adaptive ways of staying ahead in the marine industry. His biggest challenge has been making the program one that students and the community would value and support. Judging by the enthusiasm and commitment of his students towards the lobster behavior study, he has been very successful.

Hedda Steinhoff is an Island Institute Fellow based in Stonington.