All you need to know about Nova Scotia's Lobster Crawl

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A lobster dinner served with fries and salad. Photos by Stuart Forster.
A lobster dinner served with fries and salad. Photos by Stuart Forster.

Published: Fri 15 Apr 2022, 2:05 PM

Ripples scar the otherwise flat, sun-kissed surface of the Atlantic Ocean as we chug away from the jetty at West Berlin in Nova Scotia, Canada. Captain Brad Crouse has invited me aboard the JKC, an 11-metre fishing boat, to observe the crew working “on a haul”.

By Stuart Forster

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That’s how Nova Scotian fisherfolk call going out to sea to fish for lobster. The fishing season in these waters starts on the last Monday in November and continues for six months. Approximately two-fifths of all the lobsters caught in Canadian water are trapped off this part of Nova Scotia. Though it’s sunny today, the air offshore has a biting chill. Brad’s crew wears thick sweaters and wool hats under their yellow wind and waterproof coats.

Sign for the municipality of Barrington, the Lobster Capital of Canada.
Sign for the municipality of Barrington, the Lobster Capital of Canada.

Half shouting to be heard over the rhythmic thumping of the JKC’s engine, I step into the wheelhouse and ask about the worst weather the crew has ever experienced out at sea. In unison, hands gesture a rising and falling motion — depicting the locally built vessel bobbing across monstrous winter waves. “I’ve seen the sea spray freeze before it hits the deck,” comes a muffled voice from deep within a hood.

One by one, blue-caged lobster traps connected by rope splash into the sea from the back of the boat as the JFK sails parallel to the distant shore. They’re followed by an orange marker buoy.

The crew then begins winching in traps set during a previous sailing. Most, but not all, have brown shelled lobsters inside — the shells don’t turn red until the crustaceans are cooked. Several are large enough to be retained as catches but juveniles and egg-carrying females are released back into the ocean in the name of sustainability.

Rowing boat moored at Blue Rocks in Nova Scotia, Canada. Sheds for storing fishing equipment reflect in the water.
Rowing boat moored at Blue Rocks in Nova Scotia, Canada. Sheds for storing fishing equipment reflect in the water.

Inside the wheelhouse, Brad loops rubber bands over the lobsters’ claws. Their crushing claw is powerful enough to shatter the shells of mussels, one of its prey, which could otherwise give workers in the fishing industry a nasty nip. The newly caught crustaceans’ formidable pincers are also bound.

My February visit coincides with the Nova Scotia Lobster Crawl. The month-long festival features a series of live musical performances and cultural events. It also inspires lobster-infused drinks and prompts regional restaurants to add lobster-themed specials to their already lobster-heavy menus. Pizzas, mac ‘n’ cheese and poutine — that’s fries smothered with gravy and cheese curd — can be found topped with lobster. It’s even used to flavour gelato.

The Lobster Crawl is a celebration of an industry that’s woven deep into the social fabric of the province’s South Shore. Despite a light dusting of snow, it’s proving a rewarding time to explore fishing villages that become busy in summer, such as Peggy’s Cove — the home of the octagonal white lighthouse that counts among Canada’s most photographed landmarks.

During summertime the scenic Lighthouse Route, a 339-kilometre trail between Halifax and Yarmouth, draws a steady stream of visitors to this part of Maritime Canada. It provides a framework for pausing in coastal communities such as Chester, Mahone Bay and Barrington. The latter is known as the Lobster Capital of Canada. At nearby Shag Harbour, Wesley Nickerson welcomes me inside Fisher Direct, a lobster processing and storage facility with seawater tanks comparable in size to swimming pools. Newly landed crustaceans spend 48 hours cleansing in the ‘purge tank’ before being sorted for size. They’re then stored or shipped to restaurants and fish markets around the world.

By the fireside at White Point Beach Resort lodge, I meet with Alain Bossé. Widely known as the Kilted Chef, Alain travels the world demonstrating how to cook produce grown or landed in Maritime Canada. Nova Scotia’s Latin name translates into English as ‘New Scotland’ and Alain wears a kilt fashioned from a bespoke red and green tartan.

He tells me that cooking a lobster is far easier than most people realise. Those typically served whole as part of lobster dinners in Nova Scotia tend to weigh about 1.5 pounds (680 grams) and take just 12 to 13 minutes to boil in salty water. Effortlessly, he twists off their claws while describing how to serve them.

Diners who don’t like the idea of cracking open shells have the option of ordering pre-prepared lobster rolls, a dish that evolved during the 1920s. Alain explains that chefs develop their signature style, meaning that lobster rolls vary markedly across the province — some are heavily seasoned, others not so much. He suggests I pop back later in the day to sample a cross-section during the Lobster Crawl’s keenly contested Roll-Off competition.

The team from Captain Kat’s Lobster Shack at Barrington Passage have won the previous two contests. Like the lobster meat they serve in the popular dish, they’re on a roll, and foodies from across the province and beyond are looking forward to sampling their work.

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