Lobster Harvesting

fisherman's practices

Maine is the most regulated state concerning lobster fishing and as a result, leads other states in lobster conservation measures. In Maine, a lobster must measure between 3¼ inches and 5 inches along the carapace or they have to be thrown back in the water. Many lobster fishermen make it a practice to "v-notch" female, egg-bearing lobsters by cutting a notch in one of the tail flippers - then gently place them back in the water. This allows the lobsters to produce eggs for another one to two years, or as long as it takes for the notch to grow out.

Lobstering is one of the oldest industries in the state, and supports a way of life for thousands of families in Maine. All lobster harvesters play an integral role in the sustainability of Maine’s most important marine resource. Industry members must not only comply with state and federal regulations; they support and advocate Maine’s laws that have historically protected the lobster resource throughout the Gulf of Maine. For generations, lobster harvesters from Maine have realized the importance of sound resource management and their efforts have enabled the lobster industry to be the success story of New England fisheries.

Lobster Boat

Here is a lobster boat tied up at our wharf in Spruce Head, Maine. The fisherman take little boats called skiffs out to their lobster boat every morning.

There are no quotas on the catch; however there are numerous restrictions to protect the population of lobsters. It normally takes 5-7 years for a lobster to reach legal size. Though lobsters are sold by weight, they are measured with a gauge approved by Maine’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR), the government agency responsible for management of the resource. If a lobster does not fall within the minimum or maximum gauge size, it must be returned to the sea. Wardens patrol the coastline to monitor the harvesters and enforce the laws of conservation and resource management of the state.

As technology has made lobstering more efficient, laws regarding trap limits, escape vents and biodegradable panels have been implemented to further protect the resource. In Maine, lobsters are harvested the old-fashioned or traditional way, utilizing traps that must be hauled one at a time by the harvester. On average, a harvester hauls about 250-300 traps in a single day. Dragging for lobster, which can damage the marine environment, is not legal in Maine waters. Diving or gillnetting for lobsters is also illegal in Maine.

Protection of Resource and Catch

Lobsters are measured for legal size. In the US, the minimum legal size lobster must measure at least 3¼” from the eye socket to the back of the carapace where the tail joins the body. The measure was increased twice in the last ten years, and allows more females to extrude eggs and reproduce before reaching legal size.

In Maine, a maximum size law also exists. Any lobster with a greater than 5” carapace must be returned to the sea. This law exists to protect the “breeders”. Larger lobsters are capable of reproducing greater and healthier numbers of offspring and Maine lobster harvesters feel very strongly about protecting this brood stock.

“Berried” females (those carrying eggs) must be returned to the sea, after the tail has been marked with a v-notch in the right flipper next to the middle flipper. This ensures that the viably reproductive female will continue to produce young lobsters until she outgrows the notch in her tail, which may take up to two molting (shedding) cycles or approximately two years. The practice of notching and returning females provides a 10-30% return to the brood stock, a significant contribution to protect the resource.

- Harvesting text courtesy of Maine Lobster Promotion Council -