GOULDSBORO — Vessels usually steer clear of Moulton Ledge. A lighted bell buoy alerts mariners to the submerged bar, which is awash at low tide and lies about 2.5 miles offshore from Corea Harbor. Unmarked rock outcroppings and shoals nearby also pose a danger.
Moulton Ledge, though, is home to some lobsters that hole up in the underwater ridge’s deep cracks and crevices. That’s why Corea fisherman Art O’Keefe sets some of his lobster traps nearby. And, in turn, why a certain gray seal bobs poised to snatch and gulp down live fish that land in the traps and get tossed back into the ocean by the Rebecca B’s sternman Will Collins.
Starting in 2019, from July through to Thanksgiving, Collins says he and O’Keefe have encountered the male seal at Moulton Ledge on 15 to 20 of their days out hauling. As the Rebecca B nears the ledge, the white-patched fellow suddenly appears. Collins suspects the sociable gray seal (that they call Willie) may regularly rendezvous with other fishermen. The marine mammal has his lunch routine down pat. Bobbing near the 30-foot lobster boat, it bows its head and looks into the water watching the trap rise to the surface. Its excitement builds as the deckhand clears the trap of crabs, snails and undersized lobsters.
“If he hears them [fish] flapping in the trap, his eyes get big like a dog about to get a treat,” related Collins, who will toss live fish to the seal. He knows the behavior well, having a dog named Jersey back home in Steuben.
Collins’s and O’Keefe’s buddy will follow the Rebecca B around for a while. “Sometimes, he will miss a few traps,” Collins said. One time, “he came up behind the boat with a good-sized fish in his mouth. He took one swipe with his flipper and tore it in half.”
On fishing days, which begin at 6:30 a.m. and end around 2:30 p.m., Willie’s annual appearances are welcome diversions, breaking up the monotony of hauling, rebaiting and handling a couple hundred traps.
Other marine creatures will catch Willie’s attention, like the huge ocean sunfish that come up and bask on their side in the sun. Then, there are the big schools of porgies. “A dark spot appears in the water. All of a sudden, there’s an explosion and a seal comes up in the middle of it [the school of fish],” said Collins.
While it’s many months away, Collins is looking forward to fishing this season. He hopes Willie will make an appearance. “I love being on the water,” he said.