Peter Brodeur, A Life of Fishing

by Sandra Dinsmore


Brodeur and other
Point Judith fishermen
sell their catches by
themselves at the dock
where they tie up.


Point Judith, Rhode Island lobsterman Peter Brodeur, 71, has aimed for a life near the water since he was a kid. He has lived on Narragansett Bay almost all his life, and from the time he was in fifth and sixth grade, he dug clams to help his mother feed him and his two younger brothers. (His parents were separated, and back then there was no such thing as governmental or state assistance.)

“Mom made everything with clams she possibly could the whole time we lived in that house right on the bay, a year and a half,” he said: “spaghetti with clams; you name it with clams, she would make it up, and of course, we’d use the sauce and make chowder. If we caught any fish, that went in. I thought it was the best thing ever,” Brodeur recalled, saying, “I couldn’t wait to get home from school to go dig a basket of clams. I thought of it all day long. How lucky we were,” he said, “to live directly on the bay and have all that just off the front porch.”

Although Brodeur loved digging clams, he had to do it every day to eat. Some days it had to be a chore. But when asked he replied, “There were no ‘chore days’. I just loved and looked forward to it every day.”

Brodeur’s mother moved her children into subsidized housing in Pawtucket, away from the water, for the years he spent in junior high and high school. These were the only years he had what he calls an “inside” job, and he spent his weekends surfing. (“You can only surf when the weather kicks up and you can’t fish,” he explained. “Windy days nobody goes fishing.”)

In the summers, the “Big Brother” organization sent the young clam digger to a YMCA camp on Point Judith Pond, the same place Brodeur keeps his boat today. He remembers being at camp, looking up at the dock, and saying, “I’d love to work here,” never imagining that one day he might actually do so. He also recalls, “I had a dream to live in a house where you could hear a foghorn. I thought about that all the time.” He feels very lucky because that dream came true: today he can hear a foghorn from his house.

Brodeur started commercial lobster fishing in 1979, at age 33 after serving in the US Navy as a Boatswain’s Mate. Although he started fishing in an aluminum boat, he said it didn’t take long till he got a wooden one and till he became, he said, “consumed by the business,” adding, “that habit and urge hasn’t stopped.”

He started fishing from a small boat with just a few pots, to two wooden skiffs, and then to a 38-foot Novi boat that he had for nine years that could take him 22 to 23 miles out. After that he had a 22-foot Fiberglas boat for seven years that took him, as he said, “out farther than I should have gone.” For the last 21 years, he has had a 29-foot, 7inch H & H Marine hull Osmond Beal finished.

“It’s smaller than the Novi boat, [which cruised at] 8.2 knots,” Brodeur said. The H & H cruises at 14 knots. “It can fish faster,” he said, and I love it. It can’t carry as much, but it can make two trips in the same time as the Novi boat. It’s worked out very well.”

But the fishing and the boat are not as important as the way Brodeur sells his catch. Rather than selling through a dealer or a co-op, Brodeur and a number of other Point Judith fishermen sell their catches by themselves at the dock where they tie up. “It’s a good thing we sell lobster from the dock,” he explained, “because it helps expand our financial base.” He can catch less lobster, but still make a good profit. He fishes almost 450 traps.

Fishing and then selling his catch makes for a long day, starting at 5 or 6 am and ending at 8:30 pm. The first job: the fishing part is made up of, Brodeur said, “Me, the boat, and the FM radio.” The second job, the selling part, includes, “A tremendous amount of public interaction.” Brodeur added, “I enjoy talking to them.” And when he has sold his catch, he must clean his boat at the dock before going home.

When he pulls into the dock after fishing, he said, “I put up a sign: Lobster for Sale. People come not only from the beaches, but it’s a destination from Boston and upstate New York.”

Brodeur separates his catch by size and weight, so it’s easy to reach in and grab what the customer asks for. And he said, “They ask how to cook it.” He then answered the question, saying, “If the shell turns red, the meat is done. The best cooks in the world cook that way.”

Brodeur also gives his customers a gallon jug of what he calls Lobster water, saying, “If you cook the lobster in the water they live in, the meat is sweeter.”

Couldn’t be simpler. Just remember to have lemon wedges on hand and to melt the butter.