U.S. Gulf of Maine — Lobster Conservation Management Area 1
Fishermen use wire traps submerged on the ocean bottom to catch lobster. Traps are attached to ropes and marked by buoys on the surface. The traps attract lobster with fish bait and capture them live. Using small boats, lobstermen haul their traps every two to three days. This traditional fishing method has little impact on the ocean bottom and traps minimal bycatch or unwanted fish.
Lobster traps consist of a rectangular wooden or wire frame covered with nylon netting. The traps capture lobster live by attracting them through an entrance to the centre of the trap where the bait is located. As more lobsters enter the trap, the others move into a side “parlour.” Once inside the holding parlour, the larger lobsters are unable to escape. All traps have an escape hatch to allow small lobster, crabs and fish to get out.
Modern lobster traps, also called pots, are rectangular in shape and made of coated wire mesh. The rectangular shape makes them easier to stack. Today’s wire traps have replaced wooden traps of yesteryear. From small boats typically less than 45 feet, traps are generally fished in configurations of one to six traps per buoy. Multi-trap configurations are called trawls and new regulations require a minimum number of traps per buoy to minimize whale entanglement.
Traps attract lobster with bait through an entrance in the trap called the “head” which leads them into the “kitchen” where the bait bag is located. When the lobster tries to leave the trap, it follows a funnel shaped net and lands in the “bedroom” or “parlor”. Some traps have more than one kitchen and bedroom. Traps are required to have an escape vent that is large enough to allow small lobster, crabs and fish to get out. Despite popular belief that the lobsters are “trapped,” lobster have been videoed on the ocean bottom freely entering and exiting traps.
The lobster fishery is managed by effort control, which involves limits to the number of traps and fishing days. A number of measures address conservation in the fishery. These include:
Marine Stewardship Council - Certified
Seafood Watch - Good Alternative
May 01 - Apr 30
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission conducts assessments of the health and abundance of lobster stocks.
Proper handling is paramount for lobster quality and health. Once removed from the lobster trap, lobsters are evaluated for several factors. Undersized lobster, also known as “shorts”, and egg-bearing females, also known as “berried”, are returned to the ocean. A lobster that meets a minimum carapace size limit of 3.25 inches or maximum size of 5 inches are “banded” with rubber bands, known as “claw bands”, around both lobster claws for safety and quality. Once banded, they are placed in onboard holding tanks or trays with fresh circulated ocean water. At the wharf or lobster buying station, the lobsters are removed from the fishing vessel and placed in crates or totes for weighing. Once weighed, the totes or crates are held at the wharf then transported to a local holding or processing facility. At a holding facility, the lobster are graded by quality and size, and held several days before being shipped live to domestic or international markets. Lobster transported to a processing facility is processed immediately into raw and cooked, fresh and frozen lobster products.
Local buyers, known as dealers and exporters, keep live lobsters in a variety of storage facilities, including tidal pounds and tank houses. The best facilities try to mimic the natural hibernating conditions of lobster. They are individually separated into plastic tubes or trays, and placed in fresh, cold seawater to replicate their solitary existence on the seafloor. Proper facilities closely monitor oxygen levels, temperature and salinity of the seawater. Under good conditions, live lobsters can maintain their top quality for several months.
The U.S. Atlantic coast is divided into seven Lobster Conservation Management Areas (LCMA). LCMA 1 encompasses the Gulf of Maine, includng the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and is one of the largest lobster fisheries in the United States, accounting for about 87 percent of all lobster catches since 2002. The Maine fishery is open year-round with a majority of lobsters harvested from June through October. Generally late summer and fall are the most productive for fishing.