Former longtime Editor-in-Chief of Food & Wine, Dana Cowin, travels from New York City …
Maine Lobster Sustainability
Few places in the world are as suitable as Maine for sustaining marine resources—in fact, Maine lobstermen were making it a priority long before “sustainability” became a buzzword. The Maine Lobster industry’s innate focus on sustainability and conservation from trap to table is a collaborative effort of both the government and the private sector. Lobsters are harvested by hand, one trap at a time, to protect their quality and marine habitat. The Maine Lobster community has strived to stay at the forefront of conservation innovations, advocating and adding new regulations as the need for them becomes apparent.
Maine harvesters have been environmentally conscious and “eco-friendly” since long before it became fashionable. They harvest their lobsters the same careful way they have for over 125 years — by hand, one trap at a time — thus protecting the quality of their product and the marine environment. Some rules and regulations that help ensure the health of the lobster resource include:
Tail Notching: Female lobsters with visible eggs cannot be harvested. Before releasing her, the harvester notches her tail to identify her as a good breeder, thus protecting her for life from being harvested.
Minimum Size Limit: Minimum 3 1/4″ carapace measurements allow juvenile lobsters the chance to mature and reproduce before they can be harvested.
Maximum Size Limit: Maximum 5″ carapace measurements protect the large, healthy breeding stock.
Apprentice Program: New harvesters must apprentice with veterans to learn the regulated, sustainable practices.
Trap Limits: The total number of traps per harvester is limited by both the state and the individual lobster zones.
Harvest Method: Harvesting in Maine is by trap only — no dragging or diving is allowed. Traps include escape vents for under size lobsters as well as biodegradable escape hatches to free lobsters in lost traps.
Lobster Seed Fund: Supported by license fees, the Fund purchases females that extrude their eggs after being harvested. This unique buy-back program helps to ensure that the good breeding stock is returned to the ocean to reproduce.