Small-Town Rule Pits Divers Against Lobstermen A small-town controversy in Massachusetts has lobstermen and divers on different sides. The city of Gloucester requires divers to have one floating flag per diver. Divers say it makes moving underwater cumbersome and potentially dangerous. Lobsterman say it's necessary because they don't want to hit any of the divers with their boats.
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Small-Town Rule Pits Divers Against Lobstermen

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Small-Town Rule Pits Divers Against Lobstermen

Small-Town Rule Pits Divers Against Lobstermen

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The waters off Cape Ann, Massachusetts, north of Boston, are prime lobstering territory. And that's led to dispute between lobstermen on boats and divers who go underwater to snag lobsters by hand. Lobstermen say divers have been unlocking traps and stealing lobsters. Divers say that local diving ordinances in Gloucester are restricting their practice. They want those rules changed.

We're going to hear from a diver in a moment, but first to a lobsterman, Peter Prybot of Gloucester. And Mr. Prybot, how long have you been a lobsterman?

PETER PRYBOT: I started back in 1960 at the age of 12.

BLOCK: Have there always been this many divers competing with you out there?

PRYBOT: No. Every year, there seem to be a few more.

BLOCK: Now, the rule where you are, if I understand this right, is that each diver has to attach flag to a buoy to show where're diving, and that line gets attached to the diver so that you and your boat know where to steer learn.

PRYBOT: Absolutely. That's the city of Gloucester's ordinance. It's sort of, you see one of those divers' flag, you'll either slow down or drag the boat along at a safe distance. At least, we know where the diver or divers are so we can act accordingly.

BLOCK: Are there times when you can't tell where they are?

PRYBOT: Oh, definitely. Last year, I was going along in my boat, about 25, 30 miles an hour. I didn't see any divers at all in this area. I looked for flags, and then I also looked for bubbles sometimes.

All of a sudden, there were divers' bubbles rising right in my path. And my heart just rose up to my throat. So what I had to do was - just the last minute swerve, but it's just, you know, one of those cases. If I could see that flag in a distance, I would have gone way out of my way from this, you know, potentially dangerous situation.

BLOCK: Now, is this true that the divers, at least some of them, are opening the traps, taking lobsters?

PRYBOT: That is not a myth. Over the years, I've had probably thousands of pounds of lobsters pilfered from those traps.

BLOCK: Mr. Prybot, thanks so much for talking with us.

PRYBOT: My pleasure.

BLOCK: That's Peter Prybot, a lobsterman, speaking with us from his home in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

And now, the divers' view. David Millhouser joins us from Lanesville, Massachusetts, also on Cape Ann. And Mr. Millhouser, when people go down to do these dives - you're a photographer, you've watched them do what they do - how are they getting the lobsters?

DAVID MILLHOUSER: Actually, the guys who are good at it cover a lot of ground. They swim rapidly, they carry lights so they can look under rocks, and if they're lucky, they'll get a two or three a day.

BLOCK: And you've heard the charges. Lobstermen are saying - divers are actually taking lobsters from their traps?

MILLHOUSER: Well, I'm sure that a small percentage of divers do, just as a kid on the speed boat can pull up a trap too, and I have seen lobstermen pull up other lobstermen's traps.

BLOCK: There's been a debate in the Gloucester City Council about the city ordinance and about the flags that divers are supposed to attach. What's your position on this? Right now, it's supposed to be one flag per diver. What do you say?

MILLHOUSER: Well, the state ordinance says one flag per group of divers, which makes a lot more sense to me. It's tough enough even with one flag per group to keep from getting tangled in the line that you have to pull with you. You're actually holding on to this underwater. To have one per diver, or even if just two of you, you have two lines wrapped around each other, more flags just get tangled. They get tied up into a ball.

BLOCK: And you've seen this happen, this entanglement?

MILLHOUSER: It's happened to me.

BLOCK: Has this become a really divisive issue in the community there among lobstermen and divers?

MILLHOUSER: It flares up periodically, and the fact is the divers that I know, the ones that do it regularly, all recognize how hard the lobstermen work and respect them for it a great deal. Many of us do things for them like bring up crabs for them when they get balled up in a storm. And I believe that respect is mutual from most of them.

BLOCK: Well, Dave Millhouser, good to talk to you. Thanks very much.

MILLHOUSER: Well, thank you.

BLOCK: Dave Millhouser is a diver, writer and photographer in Lanesville, Massachusetts, on Cape Ann.

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