Buying lobster off the dock in Maine can be a unique and exciting experience for foodies and visitors to Vacationland. As Maine lobster fishing is a day fishery, purchasing lobster directly from a local fisherman or dock owner means you are buying seafood freshly caught that day. So where can you buy lobster off the boat in Maine?
If you wander onto almost any commercial fishing wharf in a coastal Maine town on the afternoon of a mild summer or fall day you’ll encounter a lobster fisherman unloading his catch. Coastal Maine towns like Boothbay Harbor, Stonington, Winter Harbor, Jonesport and Cutler have multiple docks where fishermen regularly unload their lobster catches. As lobster is the main catch in all these towns, any commercial wharf is a lobster fishing dock. Sometimes these docks have a little shack manned by one or several wharf hands who buy the fishermen’s catch, sell them lobster bait and fuel up their boat.
Finding a lobster fishing dock in a coastal Maine towns is easy, but buying lobster directly from a fisherman or at a bargain may not be as straight forward. Most Maine lobster fishermen sell the majority of their lobster catch directly to their ‘dealer’ for a ‘boat price’ – a price which is lower than the market price of Maine lobster. And while a fisherman isn’t legally bound to sell lobster exclusively to his dealer, the fisherman may not be motivated to take the time to separate out, weigh up and sell lobsters to a tourist without a bit of a markup.
If you are interested in buying lobsters directly from a fisherman, my recommendation is to politely offer to pay that fisherman the market price for the lobsters. Some fishermen will even insist that you pay the market price. Other lobstermen will always refer you to a lobster dealer / wharf owner if you want to buy lobsters off the dock.
If you are just looking for the experience of buying lobsters off the dock, the best path is often to approach the wharf owner / lobster dealer on that wharf and buy lobster from them directly at the market price. The lobster will be just as fresh and the process will be more straightforward. In the coastal town of Cutler, Little River Lobster Co. is the place to go to buy lobster off the dock. Dock owners Dean and Justin, or one of their crew, would be more than happy to help you.
This is not to say that Maine lobster fishermen aren’t welcoming of tourists or that they don’t care about the people that support their industry. Many fishermen will be willing to sell you lobsters off the boat and some will be happy to sell you lobsters for a special price, but it is helpful to understand the dynamics of how lobsters are bought and sold before buying Maine lobster off the dock.
During my youth, I worked as a sternman on my father’s lobster boat during the summer months. Most afternoons we would return to dock after a 10 or 12 hour day to be greeted by tourists, eager to ask us questions and, often, buy some lobsters off the dock. Some tourists were super friendly and polite. My father often went out of his way to sell these tourists a few lobsters. Other people were just looking for a deal, hoping to get lobsters for a bargain price. My father would send those people up the road to Little River Lobster Co.
I would love to answer any questions you have about buying lobster off the dock in Maine, hear about your experiences buying lobster off the dock and / or to update this article with additional advice or tips from Maine harbors or fishermen.