CAROLYN'S COMPOSITIONS

July 10, 2012

A Glut of Lobsters: The Crustacean Dilemma


CAROLYN’S COMPOSITIONS

A GLUT OF LOBSTERS: THE CRUSTACEAN DILEMMA

Middens: deposits of shells and bones left by early civilizations, provide evidence that humans have dined on crustaceans (lobsters, crabs, shrimp) since prehistoric times.3

As my husband and I arrived at the home of Richard Walker, we observed him filling a platter with eight bright red lobsters. When I finished indulging on one hard-shelled lobster and one soft-shelled lobster Dick and his wife encouraged me to dine on another. It was impossible.

My distant relative, Dick, lives in Hampton, New Hampshire.  We were visiting him to share family genealogy stories.  But the lobster meal was the most luxurious meal I’d had in a long time. In fact, my tradition is to eat just one lobster per visit to the New England coast. After all, ordering one in a restaurant is an expensive proposition.

Year 2012 is different. There is a glut of lobsters, causing lobstermen to take drastic measures while some restaurants are enjoying an uptick in business due to the low prices caused by the glut, and canners have a backlog of lobsters to process.

The current lobster glut, according to one restaurant owner, is bringing in about 300 customers a day — not bad for a 75-seat establishment… Some people are coming in a couple of times a day.5

This isn’t the first time the Atlantic Ocean has experienced a glut of lobsters. In early Plymouth, Massachusetts, lobsters sometimes washed up on the beaches in piles of two feet high. In 1621 Edward Winslow reported to a friend back in England concerning the Plymouth settlement that “our Bay is full of Lobsters all the Summer.”3

In the 1600s and 1700s lobsters were so plentiful Native Americans used them for fertilizer, they were fed to prisoners2 and eaten by poor folks.3

However, this lobster glut is occurring in the 21st century, and …most of the 933 independent and notoriously competitive licensed lobstermen of Knox County, the heart of Maine’s iconic industry, had reached an agreement to stay home last week (the second week in July) — and they plan to haul only every other day for the rest of the summer. Many of the state’s 3,600 other lobstermen are doing the same…The reason is a mysterious glut of soft-shell lobsters that has driven the wholesale price to record lows here on the docks, $2 or less per pound… There’s just not enough demand for the 400 to 500 pounds of lobsters that each boat can bring in every day.4

Consumers and food retailers may welcome this news, but the state’s five thousand lobstermen aren’t too happy, as told by one fisherman: The price is so low that we’re really not making a living.

In fact, in early July several lobstermen associations requested that the state Department of Marine Resources temporarily close the fishery until rising demand brings back reasonable prices. Commissioner Patrick Keliher refused, promising instead “appropriate marketing and managing strategies,”…4

Many persons attribute the cause of the lobster glut to warmer ocean temperatures, causing an earlier-than-usual appearance of soft-shelled lobsters. Since softer creatures don’t ship well live they must be consumed locally or sent to East Coast processing plants to be stripped of their meat, which will then go in lobster products like chowder.

The processing plants and lobster pounds (where lobstermen hold and sell lobster) have a huge backlog of crustaceans to clear.5

Although the lobstermen are not pleased with this crustacean glut processing plants must be happy to be doing such a business.

In addition to the low price lobstermen are achieving due to the lobster glut, there is another downside: The glut could presage a population crash. The shedders stayed busy growing this winter, and as most of the catch were just barely legal size, they probably hadn’t yet reproduced. If too many are caught before they breed, it’s only a matter of time before the population crashes.4

Unfortunately, Monte and I decided to postpone our travel to New England this summer due to many other family obligations.  Thus, I won’t have an opportunity to take advantage of the low restaurant prices during this year’s lobster glut.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

ADDITIONAL READING:

OBITUARY FOR BLUE BUOY (A Blue Lobster)

LOBSTER-TALES

IN SEARCH OF THE ARABELLA: A Story of Two Boats

LOGGING IN MAINE AND ON THE PERU-BRAZILIAN BORDER

MOOSE, GOOSE, DEER

THE OVENS on Mt. Desert Island, Maine

SOURCES

1http://www.lobster.um.maine.edu/index.php?page=52

2http://www.ehow.com/about_4673448_lobster-farming.html

3http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodlobster.html

4http://triblive.com/opinion/2255144-74/lobstermen-lobsters-maine-jerry-state-boats-docks-haul-industry-joanne

5http://www.npr.org/2012/07/12/156681184/lobster-glut-low-prices-leave-boats-high-and-dry

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