Maine Seafood Guide – Lobster
American lobster Homarus americanus
Wild. Hatchery techniques have been developed to “seed” juvenile lobsters in the wild, should local fisheries become depleted in the future.
American lobster is a bottom-dwelling (benthic) crustacean that grows to harvestable size in five to seven years. As invertebrates, lobsters grow by molting, or shedding, their old shell and growing a new one to accommodate growth.
Year-round, although the fishery in Maine waters peaks in late summer, when both hard and soft-shell lobsters (also known as “shedders” or easy-shell) are available. Fall is increasingly becoming the peak season. Much of the summer and fall catch is processed or placed in enclosed “pounds” located in many of Maine’s bays, which allows for a winter supply of live lobster.
The lobster fishery is the largest fishery in Maine, accounting for more than 80% of the value of total commercial seafood landings in 2015. The stock is not overfished nor is overfishing occuring. The 2015 American Lobster Benchmark Stock Assessment and Peer Review Report indicates a mixed picture of stock status, with record high stock abundance and recruitment in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, and record low abundance and recruitment in Southern New England (more from Fishwatch.gov).
Maine lobstermen implement multiple conservation measures to protect the stock, including size limits and restrictions on taking egg-bearing females, among others.
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission regulates the coast-wide fishery.
Thousands of licensed Maine lobstermen work all along the coast, catching lobsters in more than three million stationary traps or pots. The majority of the fishery is nearshore and harvesters make day trips in owner-operator boats to deploy and collect pots. See the vessel and gear guide for more information.
Limit 5 traps with a non-commercial lobster and crab license from the Department of Marine Resources. Non-commercial licenses are limited to Maine residents.
Size limit: body shell length that measures between 3 ¼ inches and 5 inches.
Season: November 1 – May 31.
Lobster is low in fat and calories. Lobster is an excellent source of selenium, a good source of zinc, but a lower source of omega-3 fatty acids.
The State of Maine has issued a consumption advisory advising against eating the tomalley, the soft, green substance found in the body cavity of the lobster. It functions as the liver and pancreas, and test results have shown the tomalley can accumulate contaminants such as mercury and dioxin, although studies have shown these to be below the FDA’s “generally recognized as safe” levels.
Freshness of live lobsters can best be discerned by looking at their antennae: lobsters have two long and two short antennae. If stored for a long period of time, lobsters will eat their antennae, which then regrow. So the more antennae (six or more), the longer the lobster has been in the tank. Live lobsters should be cooked as soon as possible after purchase, but they can be stored in the refrigerator for 24-36 hours. Keep them upright on their legs, tails tucked underneath, in a bowl or other container draped with seaweed, a towel, or newspaper soaked in cold, salted water. Do not pack in ice, as freshwater can kill lobsters. Cooked lobster meat can be stored fresh or frozen. Visit the Maine Lobster Council for more cooking tips. Processed lobster is available frozen raw, frozen cooked, refrigerated cooked, or canned.
Maine is home to numerous lobster cooperatives and dealers who sell direct to consumers or to retail markets. At Catch a Piece of Maine, subscribers can adopt a lobster pot and receive the trap’s harvest all year long.