All About Lobstering

Blog, Seafood

The Romans called it locusta. The Anglo-Saxons knew it as lopystre. Botanists pitched in with Homarus Americanius. The fisher folk of Maine will brook no argument: It’s LOB-stuh, and that’s that.

What boasts five pairs of compound eyes on sturdy little stalks? What crawls about on five sets of legs, one of which has modified into some nasty pincers (one for crushing & one for ripping)? What resembles nothing so much as a giant spider –greenish blue in its own habitat, blustery red on your plate?  Is it the monster of some childhood nightmare –or an alien?

No, it’s your dinner. And you couldn’t be happier. As a leaseholder of one of our lobster traps you can expect at least 8½ lbs. (our guaranteed minimum) of pier-fresh Maine lobster delivered right to your door; enough for six hungry people

Lobstering is a fascinating study. The lobster fleet heads out at daybreak six days a week, through the thick fog that always seems to curl along the deeply indented coastline. Some traps lie in shallow inlets, others in deeper water. Only the most severe winter storm will deter a lobsterman from checking his traps, which are marked by buoys that float above, painted in his own distinctive (proprietary) colors and patterns. The traps are hauled up onto the boat and checked regularly. Sometimes they’re empty, at other times they’re mobbed. With the law of averages on their side, and with their renowned perseverance, lobstermen know that the traps will net a yield over time.

Maine lobstermen have been characterized as taciturn, cantankerous and fiercely independent. It’s no wonder when you realize how hard they work. How uncertain each trap-check is, how daunting the weather. The lobsters must be a certain size determined by strictly enforced regulations. Maine regulations stipulate that if a lobster is over 2 ½ lbs., if it is under 1lb., if it is bearing eggs, if it is less than 3/16″ from eye socket to carapace, but not over 5″ — back it goes. This is not simply a matter of bureaucratic nitpicking; this size range produces the best flavor and the sweetest meat, neither tough nor dry.

We like to eat our lobsters at the little lobster shacks down where the boats dock in the evening. Nothing fancy, mind you: paper plates, little tubs of drawn butter and a cool drink. You might not have the same view, but your lobsters will be just as sweet and fresh as ours.

All you need to do is set the cooking pot on the stove, half-fill with well-salted water (or white wine or beer), drop lobsters into the boiling water, and cook for 15 minutes. Wash lobsters off with fresh water.

We don’t use lobsters that have been lounging about in holding tanks for days on end: poor water circulation leads to the build-up of ammonia and other wastes. And we don’t just run across the street and buy your lobsters at the market. When we say these lobsters are fished for you, and they’re absolutely fresh, we mean it!

Lobsters are not very social creatures. They’ll readily attack one another and go for the lobsterman if given the chance. As soon as they’re brought on board, the pincers are pegged and banded for safety. On occasion a lobster will lose a claw (which can grow back in about eight weeks. Don’t worry; yours will always have two claws.

The first person to eat a lobster must have been very hungry and/or very brave -As well as quite imaginative. Who would have thought that what lay beneath all that armor was what some say is the food of the gods? Today, of course, lobster is considered something of a luxury. But two hundred years ago lobster meat was distributed by colonial officials to widows and orphans as “charity food”. So common were lobsters that farmers would gather them along the shore and use them as fertilizer! Indentured servants prayed for work contracts that stipulated that they wouldn’t have to eat lobster meat more than twice a week.

It takes seven to eight years for a lobster to mature to a “catchable” size. Over a two-year period a single female lobster will be pregnant for nine months; then carry the fertilized eggs under her tail for another ten months before they hatch. Two million traps are set in American waters each year, with 60% of the yield coming from the state of Maine. Increased human population means increased demand. The lobsters have only just managed to keep up.

The catch can vary considerably from year to year. This year, water temperature in Maine has been unusually cold, and the lobsters have, as it were, been dormant. The fisherman goes to his quarry, but the lobsterman must wait for his to come to him. When the weather is harsh, lobsters stay put and the traps stay empty.

Lobsters have made their mark on land as well. You’re “red as a lobster” is the alarmed response to the incautious sun-worshipper. In the 15th century the poet Rabelais described the sunset as being “like a boiled lobster”. We all know that the British soldiers during the American Revolution were called “red coats” because of their uniforms; but did you know they were also known as “lobstermen”? And who can forget that (in) famous scene in the movie Tom Jones when Albert Finney ate lobster with his ladylove?

LOBSTER WAR is an award-winning feature film about a climate-fueled conflict between the United States and Canada over waters that both countries have claimed since the end of the Revolutionary War. Over the past 2 decades, lobstermen from both Maine and Canada have been fighting a cold “Lobster War.” The dispute is over who owns 277-miles of lucrative fishing water surrounding a small island in the Gulf Of Maine, the Machias Seal Island. As the Gulf of Maine has warmed faster than nearly any other body of water on the planet, the areas previously modest lobster population has surged. As a result, Canadians have begun to assert their sovereignty, warring with the Americans to claim the bounty.

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