One of the most common styles of pots used is the ‘D’ creel that is used throughout the UK to target lobster and crab by both inshore vessels and some of those working further offshore. These creels generally have two entrances in the side, diagonally opposite each other. These entrances sometimes have a plastic ring on the inner end to keep the entrance open, others will just have the raw netting at the end. Some traps will have another section at one end called a parlour with a third entrance from the main section of the trap. This is to help retain the catch in the trap until it is hauled. Both types of creels will be seen in many ports piled up on the quay ready for use when the season starts. Originally this style of creel would have been made with a wooden base and frame that was then covered in netting, with a stone or lump of concrete in the bottom to weight them down. This older style is still used today by some fishermen, but most commercial gear uses a steel frame, often plastic coated, covered with netting.
Lobster creels can either by shot individually or more commonly in strings (fleets), where a number of pots are attached to one long rope and laid on the seabed, with a dhan or bouy to mark the location of each end of the fleet. If the pots are very light weight, as in Nephrops creels, or shot in areas of strong tides an anchor or weight may be added at both ends of the fleet to minimise movement on the seabed. Many fishermen will just use a heavier pot at the end of each fleet.
The number of pots in a fleet depends on many factors, such as the type of pot used, the size and design of vessel, the area they are shot in, the type of seabed, and the personal preference of the skipper and crew.
The numbers in a fleet in most lobster fisheries can be anything up to 50. This often depends on the number that the boat can comfortable handle on deck at one time.
As in most trap fisheries the pots are baited and shot away from the vessel as it steams slowly ahead. They are then left to fish for a period, usually 24 hours. If left much more than overnight, there can be a tendency for some of the shellfish that are already in the traps to escape, thereby creating a loss of revenue for the vessel.
The pots are hauled by firstly picking up the dhan at the end of the fleet of pots and leading the rope to the creel hauler. The hauler is usually mounted forward, to one side of the vessel. As the pots are hauled up to the vessel, the creel hauler will be slowed down as the pots approach the vessel side. They will then be hauled, or manhandled, over the side of the vessel and onto a flat working table where the catch is removed and placed in a container for onboard sorting and processing before storage. As the catch is being taken out of the trap, any by-catch or undersized crabs and lobster will be immediately returned to the sea and the traps will be re-baited. The re-baited pots are passed across the deck and stowed in correct order so that they are all ready to be shot away again. In the meantime, the hauler will have been engaged again to haul in the rope until the next pot is at the side of the vessel, and the whole process is repeated and continues like this until the whole fleet is onboard the vessel.
The skipper will manoeuvre the vessel into position and start to shoot the fleet again. This is usually done by shooting away the dhan and rope and probably manhandling the first trap into the water. After this, the rest of the fleet should be ‘towed’ of the stern of the boat each in turn as each length of rope between them comes tight. However, if there has not been a good catch the skipper may opt to keep the fleet onboard and move fishing grounds a short way in an attempt to improve the next day’s catch. This routine and layout is fairly standard on all UK vessels, and many overseas vessels fishing with traps and pots.
All sizes of vessels can fish with target lobsters, with small inshore open boats often operating with a few traps shot individually instead of in fleets and hauled by hand, right up to the bigger vessels working longer fleets further offshore
The smaller vessels generally store their catch in boxes that are kept damp and out of sunlight. These boats will land their catch daily, or put them into storage cages anchored underwater until the shellfish buyer is in port to collect them. The larger vessels will store their catch in vivier tanks to keep them alive onboard the vessel and land their catch after several days of fishing. A vivier tank is a tank built into the hull of the vessel with a pump system to circulate fresh seawater to keep the animals alive. In both methods of storing the catch each lobster will have a small elastic band fitted over its claws to prevent them damaging each other in storage.
Once put ashore, many shellfish buyers will transport the catch in lorries fitted with vivier tanks to ensure the shellfish are still alive and fresh when they reach the end user.
In several areas around the UK there are lobster breeding and release programmes to enhance the wild stocks as well as restrictions on landing berried lobsters. These are female lobsters with eggs on just ready to spawn.