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There are hundreds of  species of lobster worldwide but of these there are only a few types of lobster caught commercially. But those few species are some of the most heavily harvested creatures in the sea, and generate a multi-billion-dollar industry, with more than 200,000 tons (181,436 metric tons) of annual global catch.

The lobsters that most people know from their dinner plates are the American and European clawed lobsters Homarus americanus and Homarus gammarus. These are cold water species that live on either sides of the northern Atlantic Ocean. There are also tropical lobsters that are widely consumed, but these are generally clawless varieties called spiny and slipper lobsters.

Lobsters are ten-legged crustaceans closely related to shrimp and crabs. These benthic, or bottom-dwelling, creatures are found in all of the world’s oceans, as well as brackish environments and even freshwater. They have poor eyesight but highly developed senses of taste and smell. They feed primarily on fish and molluscs, but will consume algae and other plant life and even other lobsters.

In general, lobsters are 25–50 centimetres (10–20 in) long and move by slowly walking on the sea floor. However, when they flee, they swim backwards quickly by curling and uncurling their abdomen. A speed of 5 metres per second (11 mph) has been recorded.

Female lobsters carry their eggs under their abdomens for up to a year before releasing them as larvae into the water. The larvae go through several stages in the water column before settling on the bottom, where they spend the rest of their lives. They generally prefer to live in self-dug burrows, in rocky crevices, or hidden among sea grasses. Lobsters must shed their shells in order to grow, and some species can live to be 50 years old or more, growing continually throughout their lives.

Lobsters have not always been considered chic eats. In 17th- and 18th-century America, they were so abundant in the northeast that they were often used as fertilizer. Laws were even passed forbidding people to feed servants lobster more than twice a week. However,

improvements in U.S. transportation infrastructure in the 19th and 20th century brought fresh lobster to distant urban areas, and its reputation as a delicacy grew.

European Lobster

American lobster

Female lobster with eggs

Fishing For Lobsters

The world record lobster was caught in 1977 in Nova Scotia, Canada, weighing in at 44 pounds, 6 ounces, measuring nearly four feet long. A 42-pound lobster taken in 1935 now proudly resides in the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts. Considering it takes five to seven years for a lobster to reach the weight of one pound, one can only wonder how old those lobsters were, but the guess is around sixty to seventy years.

World Record Lobster

North American lobster industry

Most lobsters come from the northeastern coast of North America, with the Canadian Maritimes and the US state of Maine being the largest producers. Lobsters are caught primarily using lobster traps, although lobsters are also harvested as bycatch by bottom trawlers, fishermen using gillnets, and by scuba divers in some areas. Maine completely prohibits scuba divers from catching lobsters (violations could result in up to a $1000 fine). Some parts of the United States offer scuba divers lobster licenses for a fee, and they are only available to state residents.

Lobster Traps

against other lobsters because it is a source of food. An estimated 10% of lobsters that encounter a trap enter, and only 6% will actually be caught.

In the United States, the lobster industry is regulated to protect the lobster industry for future generations. Every lobster fisherman is required to carry a lobster gauge. This measuring device gauges the distance from the lobster's eye socket to the end of its carapace. If the lobster is less than 3.25 inches (83 mm) long, it is too young to be sold and must be released back to the sea. Dishonest lobster fishermen could try to sell these "shorts." There is also a legal maximum size of 5 in (130 mm) in Maine, meant to ensure the survival of a healthy breeding stock of adult males, but in parts

of some states, such as Massachusetts, there is none. Also, traps must contain an escape hole or "vent", which allows juvenile lobsters and bycatch species to escape. The law in Maine and other states dictates a second large escape hole or "ghost panel" must be installed. This hole is held shut through use of biodegradable clips made of ferrous metal. Should the trap become lost, the trap eventually opens, allowing the catch to escape.

To protect known breeding females, lobsters caught carrying eggs are to be notched on a tail flipper (second from the right, if the lobster is right-side up and the tail is fully extended). Following this, the female cannot be kept or sold, and is commonly referred to as a "punch-tail" or as "v-notched". This notch remains for two molts of the lobster exoskeleton, providing harvest protection and continued breeding availability for up to five years. These egg-bearing females are also known as "scrubs", since an unscrupulous lobster fisherman may scrub the eggs off the underside of the tail with a stiff brush and attempt to sell the lobster as an honest catch. The United States Coast Guard often boards the boats of lobster fishermen to ensure they are not carrying "shorts" or "scrubs".

Lobster management policy in the US is made by lobster conservation management committees (LMCTs). These groups are made up of local fishermen, policy managers and scientists. The LCMTs report to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, an interstate fisheries organization. Lobstermen are unique in the US in that they are able to create their own conservation policy, as se t under specific guidelines by scientists and political management.

Lobster boats range from small rowboats to the larger 80 ft (24 m) (or longer) offshore boats that fish the US Exclusive Economic Zone from Maine to North Carolina. The average inshore lobster boat varies from 25 to 42 ft (8 to 13 m) long. These inshore boats haul about 200–500 traps each day.

An inshore lobster boat costs range from $30,000 to $400,000, depending upon the size of the boat and engine. Lobster traps cost $50–$80 each, and most lobstermen fish 400–800 traps (800 is the maximum number of traps allowed lobster fishermen in the inshore Gulf of Maine). In addition, the rope and buoys used are also very expensive.

Originally the lobster traps were constructed  of a wooden frame surrounded by a rope mesh but are now rectangular cages made of vinyl-coated galvanized steel mesh or wood, with woven mesh entrances. These are baited and lowered to the sea floor. They allow a lobster to enter, but make it difficult for the larger specimens to turn around and exit. This allows the creatures to be captured alive. The traps, sometimes referred to as "pots", have a buoy floating on the surface, and lobstermen check their traps between one and seven days after setting them. The inefficiency of the trapping system has inadvertently prevented the lobster population from being overfished. Lobsters can easily escape the trap, and will defend the trap

Wooden Lobster Trap Nova Scotia

Modern Wire Lobster Trap

Canada A Troubled Past

In the late 1990s and early 21st century, lobster fishing was the cause of troubles between Acadians and Mi'kmaq First Nations in the Canadian Maritimes. The Acadian economy (and identity) relied substantially on fisheries, especially lobster. In 1998, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favor of the First Nations and granted them unlimited rights to natural resources. The decision was based on a treaty from the 18th century. The federal government attempted to take licenses and quotas from the traditional fishermen and hand them out to the natives, which caused great upset among Acadian fishermen, whose fishing quota had already dropped dramatically in the years before. The hub of these troubles was Burnt Church, a reserve between Miramichi and the Acadian town of Neguac, in the heart of a region where white people are just as poor as natives. White fishermen had cut the buoys off native-owned lobster traps, causing the lobster traps to be lost and become a hazard to marine life. A Royal Canadian Mounted Police ship nearly sank a native-owned ship.

The tension increased and decreased with each fishing season. Its climax came in April 2003, when a riot broke in the port of Shippagan. Three native-owned fishing ships and a fish processing plant were burnt down. Since then, efforts have been made to bring Acadians and natives closer together, and the tension has slowly abated.

Lobster Boat Nova Scotia

Lobster must be cooked in salty water, so that the flavour of the meat is maintained, and sea water is preferred if available. Do not panic if sea water is not an option for you, as salted tap water will be fine.


You may add a mixture of wine, vegetables and herbs to the water in order to give the lobster meat more flavour. The residual liquid may also be used to make a delicious stock or sauce. Ingredients that can be added include white wine, pepper, parsley, celery, onions, carrots, or bay leaves.

Many lobster lovers say that lobster is best eaten whole and steamed. However, you can also cook your lobster and use the meat to make sandwiches, salads, soups, risottos and a large number of other varied dishes.   

The most humane method

A lot of people consider boiling a lobster alive to be inhumane and cruel. Other people believe that the nervous system of a lobster is too simple for it to feel any pain at all, similar to insects. This subject remains a topic of controversy, still to this day.

Studies have been carried out by a number of researchers and universities to determine the most humane method of boiling lobster.

Various methods of relaxation techniques were carried out prior to boiling and the lowest number of tail flicks upon insertion into the boiling water was thought to mean that the lobster felt less pain.

It was found that the best way to minimize the tail movements of the lobster upon boiling is by placing the lobster in the freezer for a period of 5 - 10 minutes in order to numb the lobster before cooking.

For those who still feel that they would rather kill the lobster first before boiling should kill the lobster first  by inserting a knife about 2 inches behind the eyes & cutting the head inhalf  length ways this is the quickest way to kill the lobster.


Boiling lobster

In order to boil your lobster, you will need a large pot with a lid.

Pour enough water in the pot to cover the lobster completely.

Add 2 tablespoons of sea salt for every 2 litres (4 pints) of water.

Bring the water to a fierce boil.

Grasp the live lobster behind the claws and drop it headfirst into the boiling water.

Cover the pot and once the water has started to boil again, start timing.

Boil the lobster for 10 minutes for the first lb of weight and then 3 more minutes for each extra pound. A two lb lobster will be done in 13 minutes, a 3 lb lobster in 16 minutes.

Once cooked, drain the lobster immediately and serve hot.

Tip - when cooking lobster the smell can seem quite revolving so it is a good idea to do the cooking outside on a portable propane cooker as in the photos above.

Steaming lobster

You will require a longer cooking time to steam your lobster, however, many people say that the result is even better than boiling, giving you a succulent and tasty lobster meat.

Place a steaming rack to hold the lobster in the bottom of a large pot.

Pour 2 inches of water into the pot and add 1 tablespoon of sea salt.

Cover the pot with the lid and bring the water to the boil.

Once the water is boiling fiercely, place the lobster onto the rack, cover the pot and bring back to the boil.

Begin timing once the water is boiling again.

Steam the lobster for 14 minutes for the first lb of weight and then an extra 3 minutes for each extra lb. A 2 lb lobster will cook in 17 minutes, a 3 lb in 20 minutes.

Once the lobster is done, drain immediately and serve.

Grilling lobster

Follow the instructions for boiling a lobster above, but only par-boil the lobster for about 5 minutes.

Remove the lobster from the pot and place it on its back.

Preheat the grill to a medium - hot heat.

Take a sharp knife and cut the lobster down the middle. Remove the black vein that runs down the tail, the green tomalley and the sand sac, which is located in the head area, behind the eyes.

Baste the lobster meat with melted butter and lemon juice (optional) and place under the preheated grill, shell-side down for around 8 - 10 minutes or until the lobster meat is thoroughly cooked.

Serve immediately.  


Which parts of a lobster can you eat?

The majority of the lobsters meat is found in the tail and in the two front claws. Smaller amounts of meat can also be found in the legs and in some parts of the body.

Parts which should not be eaten, are the shell, the sac behind the eyes, the black vein running through the tail and the green tomalley, although this is debatable, as some lobster eaters claim this to be the best part.

Cooking Lobsters

How can I tell when your lobster is cooked?

Care must be taken not to overcook the lobster, as this will result in tougher and less succulent meat. Overcooking also means that some of the delicious flavour will be lost and the meat may shrink, become stringy or even mushy.


The green tomalley or liver, which is situated inside the body cavity, will have turned a greenish yellow colour.   



How to serve lobster

Once the lobster has been cooked, it should be drained immediately on paper towels and served hot.

You can either use lobster crackers to crack the shell in order to reach the meat or cut the claws and the lobster in half with a sturdy knife.

The lobster meat is usually picked out by using a fork and dipped into mayonnaise, melted butter or lemon juice.


Refrigerating cooked lobster meat

If you are not going to eat the lobster right away, it must be cooled immediately by immersing it into ice-cold water. This is so that bacteria are unable to multiply and contaminate the meat.

The lobster should then be drained and stored in the fridge in its shell, in an airtight container for a maximum of 2 days.

If you are going to use the cooked meat for a particular recipe, it is best to remove the meat from the shell before storing it in the refrigerator.