It has been another record year for Maine lobster fishing. The 2012 Maine lobster catch was up by an astounding 18 million pounds. Unfortunately, the price lobster fishermen received for their lobsters in 2012 was at an 18 year low.
What is driving the high Maine lobster landings and low lobster prices? The abundance of the Maine lobster catch is due largely to the four critical conservation measures the fishermen, along with government officials, put in place many years ago. They are as follows:
1. Young lobsters, called juveniles, cannot be harvested. Until they reach a size of over 3.25 inches on the carapace, they must be returned to the ocean. A metal gauge is used to check the carapace size. An average lobster in Maine waters will live and grow for about seven years before it is of harvestable size.
2. Large lobsters, more than five inches on the carapace, cannot be harvested. These lobsters are considered “forever wild” and must be returned to the ocean when caught. As with small lobsters, a metal gauge is used to check the carapace size of large lobsters.
3. Female lobsters that are pregnant (egg-bearing) or marked with a special, man-made notch in their inner right flipper cannot be harvested. They must be returned to the wild. Months or years down the line, if these female lobsters are no longer bearing eggs or have outshed their V-notches, it may be possible to harvest them.
4. All lobsters must be caught in traps—no dragging or diving is allowed. The traps must include escape vents for undersize lobsters, as well as biodegradable escape hatches to free lobsters in lost traps.
In addition the the above laws which have worked effectively to conserve the Maine lobster resource, many other Maine ground fisheries have been mismanaged, leading to a severe decline in lobster predators such as cod fish. The result is that the Gulf of Maine today is an ecosystem dominated by lobsters.
While the lobster surplus is good news for lovers of lobster, the depressed economy and a lack of viable markets to meet the increased supply means prices have bottomed out. While some interesting business models have sprung up to take advantage of the lobster surplus – lobster roll food trucks and online companies – much more still needs to be done to boost the market price of Maine lobsters.
To read more recent updates on the Maine lobster fishing season, click here.