Learn everything you need to know about the king of the sea with our Lobster 101 Guide. Our introduction to lobster begins with a quick review of the history of lobster in Maine, types of lobsters, grades of lobster, times of the year it is caught, and lobster colors, and of course, lobster cooking. Plus, we list our favorite fun facts about lobster.
A Brief History of Lobster in Maine
Lobsters have been harvested commercially since the mid 1800’s. Before this time, it is clear that lobsters were plentiful and bigger in size and lived much longer than they do today. Magellan’s journals notes that these “creatures” were as thick as “molasses” in some parts of coastal water explored in the old Massachusetts territory, which is now known as Maine.
The fishing industry in Maine is second only to timber (per capita). Whereas most pulp and paper activity is controlled by large corporations, the lobster industry is primarily still family-run. This heritage and way of life are to this day passed down from generation to generation. Although a few new technological additions have been added to the mix, little has changed in this culture since lobsters were first commercially harvested since the mid 1800’s
It was the New Yorkers and Bostonians that really gave the Maine lobster its place on the culinary map, after they developed a taste of its deliciously sweet and succulent meat. Lobsters nowadays are somewhat synonymous with exclusive restaurants and expensive buffets. We imagine them nestled amongst leafy green salads, drizzled with butter sauces, displayed on pure white porcelain and handled with gold cutlery. Lobster throughout history has been prized as a delicacy, especially throughout Western Europe, as their history stretches from Roman banquet halls to feasts thrown by Tudor monarchs. But lobster is too delicious to leave solely to these precious reserves.
Maine lobster, also known as the American Lobster, is found in the waters between Eastern Canada and North Carolina, with Maine contributing to more than half of all lobsters caught in the United States.
What are the Different Types of Lobsters?
For the most part there are two main types of lobster, cold water and warm water. First up is the warm water lobster, which is commonly caught off the coast of Asia, the Caribbean, Florida, California and the Mediterranean. Warm water lobster have a fishier taste, often with a softer mushier texture, which means they are often difficult to handle. Cold water lobster is commonly caught off the coast of New Zealand, south Africa, Australia, and of course Maine. These lobsters are firmer sweeter and more succulent, with whiter meat. They are transported frozen to many warm water areas because you just can’t compete with the taste. Don’t compromise – always pick cold water Maine lobster. You’ll never be disappointed.
What is a Maine Lobster?
First you have to select the right species of lobster: Homarus americanus, also known as the American Lobster, Boston Lobster, New England Lobster, Atlantic Lobster, Northern Lobster, Nova Scotia lobster, and of course the Maine Lobster. This large crustacean has a long body and five sets of legs, and one pair that features big, strong claws. In fact, almost half of the lobster’s weight comes from its claws. Its shell can be mottled brown, green and black. In cold waters, like that of the northern Atlantic, lobsters grow at a slower rate. This is why Maine lobster meat is firmer and more succulent. The cool temperatures keep the salt water from permeating the meat.
What’s the Difference between a Maine Lobster and a Spiny Lobster?
The Maine lobster should never be confused with the spiny lobster, Panulirus arus or rock lobster. Maine lobster is easily distinguished from the “spiny” lobster by its large heavy claws. The spiny lobster is caught in warm waters off Florida and in the Caribbean and southern California coast. The spiny lobster features long, strong antennae and a pair of horns above the eyes, but with no big front claws. The spiny lobster has tiny claws and is usually marketed as uncooked frozen tails. It is often processed as cheap tails and sold at the big club stores. Because of its sweet, delicious flavor and tender texture Maine lobster is the world’s most prized catch.
Lobsters are trapped throughout the year. Typically some of the best months to buy hard-shell lobsters are in late spring, from May to June and again in the fall, from October to November. New shell lobsters are usually harvested from late summer to early fall.
Live Maine lobster is available year-round, with the bulk of the catch harvested in the summer and fall. In the winter months many lobstermen pull their traps to avoid damage and danger of Nor’easters and other storms. The price of lobster, like most prices, is ruled by supply and demand, as well as, the weather. Unpredictable weather and seasonal changes affect supply. In recent years the lobster seasons has been anything but typical.
Lobster prices usually rise at the start of Memorial Day and drop as the season ends with Labor Day weekend. May and September are good times to buy hard-shell lobsters. In June and July, when lobster molting is at its peak, the majority of lobsters sold locally are soft-shell.
Hard Shell Lobsters
Lobsters grow by molting, or shedding their shells. Just after they molt, they are soft and fragile until their new shell has hardened. (It takes about 25 molts over 5-7 years for a lobster to grow to a minimum legal size, 1 pound.) Newly molted lobsters are called soft-shell or “new shell” lobsters. It is important to be aware of the quality and price of soft-shell lobsters. Soft-Shell lobsters have less meat in proportion to total body weight than hard-shell lobsters. Hard-shell meat is firmer, while soft-shell meat is softer and tends to have more water. Because soft-shell lobsters are not as strong as hard-shells, they do not ship well. This is why soft-shell lobster is always less expensive. Cracking a hard-shell Maine lobster takes some effort, but the results are more than worth it. Learn more about how to buy hard shell lobsters.
Lobsters are caught in traps, marked by colorful buoys to identify the traps’ owners. If you happen to be out on a boat and come across one, don’t even think about pulling it up to take a look. There is no real authority specifically governing lobster traps, unless you count Smith & Wesson, and the notoriously short-tempered lobstermen, themselves.
When the lobsters are taken from the trap, they are “banded” with strong rubber bands. Sometimes you might see wooden plugs inserted into the base of the claw. Do not remove the bands or plugs…they are there for your safety!!!
The State of Maine has very strict laws governing lobstering. Lobster traps may not be hauled at night and on Sundays during June through August in Maine waters (since 1967). In Maine it is illegal to keep lobsters under and over a certain size. Lobstermen use a special gauge to accurately measure the length of the lobster’s carapace (body)–from the eye socket to the beginning of the tail to ensure legal compliance.
The legal minimum length is 3 1/4 inches. Lobsters under this length are call “shorts” or “snappers” and must be thrown back into the ocean.
Minimum sizes are enforced to make sure that lobsters are mature enough to breed at least once before they are harvested. When a female egg-bearing lobster is found, it is required by Maine law that a v-shaped notch be placed in the right tail flipper before releasing the lobster, in order to protect her so that she may continue to reproduce.
The maximum legal length of a lobster is 5 inches carapace-length; which are called “jumbos”. The maximum size limit is regulated to protect the breeding stock. A minimum size lobster will weigh around 1 pound, while a maximum size lobster will weigh between 3-4 pounds. The most plentiful and most popular size of Maine Lobster is between 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 pounds each.
Contrary to popular belief, live lobsters are not red in color, but are actually a dark blue-green color because of the many different color pigments. When cooked, all of the pigments except for the red (astaxantbin) are hidden. Besides the typical colored lobsters, there are also rare yellow, red, blue and white specimens. About 1 in every 30 million lobsters is born with a blue shell. Lobsters are usually active at night and eat fish, crabs, clams, mussels, sea urchins and sometimes-other lobsters!
You can tell if a lobster is a male or a female by looking at their first pair of swimmerets found on the under body of the lobster. The swimmerets on the male are larger and bony; they are smaller and softer in the female.
Maine lobster is not only great tasting, it’s healthy – that is, if you go easy on the butter. It’s hard to believe, but Maine Lobster has less cholesterol, calories, and saturated fats than lean beef, skinless chicken and pork. Lobster is a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are proven to reduce hardening of the arteries and risk of heart disease. Lobster is also high in amino acids, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, vitamin A, and many of the B vitamins. Read more about lobster health facts.
Live lobster can be boiled, steamed, grilled, or baked. The white meat of the Maine lobster is located in the tail, claws, and knuckles. Meat can also be found in parts of the body and legs. The red material in the tail section is the coral “roe” or the female eggs and is considered a delicacy. The greenish material at the junction of the body and tail is “tomalley”, which is actually the liver, and has a very unique “peppery” taste used in many recipes.
Don’t worry about cooking live lobsters. Lobsters have a ganglionic nervous system (as opposed to a central nervous system), so they do not feel “pain” the same way that we do.
The supposed “screaming” in the pot is actually the sound of steam escaping from the lobster’s shell.
Cooking a lobster longer than the recommended times usually makes the meat too tough. When properly cooked, lobster meat is a creamy white, shells are bright red and the two front antennae pull out easily. A 1-2 pound whole lobster serves one person. A pound of meat can be removed from four to six lobsters weighing 1.25 pounds (typical market size). Approximately two cups of lobster meat equals one pound.
For more Maine lobster cooking instructions be sure to visit our cooking and handling guide for best times
Though Maine lobster is best enjoyed “in the rough” (cooked whole in the shell), it lends itself to a variety of recipes and styles. Celebrate, anytime of year, anywhere in the country, with the finest live Maine Lobster from LobsterAnywhere.com.
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Lobster Fun FAQs
We’ve been working with Maine lobsters for close to twenty years and have come across plenty of questions from landlubbers and lobster aficionados alike. Find answers to frequently asked questions, plus learn interesting lobster trivia. We hope these fun facts heighten your appreciation for the crustaceans.
Lobsters curl and uncurl their bodies to move backward quickly.
To get away in a hurry, the lobster swims backwards by vigorously flipping its tail and can escape quickly by swimming this way. They also use their swimmerettes and walking legs to move through the water.
Small lobsters (less than 1-1/2 ” carapace length) live in and around the coastal sea weeds and rocky habitat where there they can hide from prey. Bigger adolescent lobsters (1-1/2″ to 3-1/2″ carapace length live in coastal and offshore areas. Larger lobsters will migrate to deeper offer shore areas and may migrate seasonally to shallow warmer waters.
It was once thought that lobsters were scavengers and ate primarily dead things. But new research has shown that lobster catch fresh food (except bait) which includes fish, crabs, clams, mussels, worms, sea urchins, slow-witted flounders and sometimes other lobsters! Occasionally they eat plants. Lobster are nocturnal and will usually hunt for food at night.
Lobster Thermidor is said to be named by Napoleon.Thermidor was the 11th month of the calendar used during the French Revolution.This classic French dish is made with egg yolks, brandy and the lobster’s meat stuffed back into its shell for serving. Here’s a recipe for easy Lobster Thermidor
Lobster fishing is most active in the Gulf of Maine, Bay of Fundy, Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and coastal Nova Scotia.
Maine’s iconic license plate featuring a bright red lobster was designed by elementary school children in 1987.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest lobster ever caught was a 44-pound leviathan caught in 1977 off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Looking for a really big lobster online? Check out our colossal lobsters.
It’s a female lobster carrying eggs under its tail. In Maine it is illegal to keep egg bearing lobsters. Lobstermen will put a v-notch in the tail flipper of egg bearing female lobster and return them to the sea. This practice dates back to the 1900’s and preserves the the future health of Maine’s lobster fishery.
A chicken lobster is a small lobster that weighs about one pound. LobsterAnywhere does not sell chicken lobsters. Would you want a tiny lobster or a good sized lobster shipped to you?
You guessed it. A male lobster is called a cock.
It’s a lobster with only one claw. Most culls are processed for their meat, but you can buy them at lobster pounds at a good price if available.
A lobster may live 100 years, grow to 5 feet, and weigh as much as 45 pounds! Officially, the largest lobster ever caught weighed 44 pounds. A lobster’s age is approximately his weight multiplied by 4, plus 3 years. A lobster is approximately 7 years old before it is legal to harvest, and it will weigh about 1 pound. A lobster has a greater life expectancy than most humans. A 25 pound lobster could be over 100 years old!
Two kinds of lobster-like crustaceans exist in the United States waters. The “true” lobster (the Maine lobster) is designated as such to differentiate it from the other from, the “spiny” lobster. The Spiny Lobster of southern waters and of the Pacific is not a close relative. The two, from different families, display two major differences. The New England lobster has claws on the first four legs, lacking in the spiny lobster. The spiny lobster has a pair of horns above the eyes, lacking in the true lobster. LobsterAnywhere only ships cold-water Maine lobsters, the tastier of the two.
You don’t want to buy a sleeper lobster. You may have spotted one floating in your local grocery store lobster tank. A sleeper lobster is a sluggish or not so lively lobster that may be near death. Learn more about how to select a lively lobster.
Soft-shell is the term used for a newly molted lobster. Learn More about Hard-Shell Lobsters.
A hard-shell lobster is one whose shell has fully hardened after molting. Hard shells as the name implies, are hard to crack. Hard-shell lobsters yield 50% more meat than soft shell lobsters. Learn More: Hard-Shell Games: Hard Shell vs. Soft Shell Lobster
Yes, they regrow claws, legs, and antennae.
Female lobsters do not have their eggs fertilized right away after mating. They can choose the perfect conditions for having their babies which may be a year after they’ve mated with a male.
The crustacean is packed with protein. There is a whopping 28 grams per serving and as few as 96 calories if not dipped in butter. Learn more about the nutritional benefits of Maine lobster.
Sorry Phoebe from Friends, lobsters are rather promiscuous, and actually mate with multiple partners. A dominant male lobster mates with multiple female partners.
It was appropriately called “Pinchers” the lobster.
It can take a female lobster about 10 years to reach sexual maturity!
No you must be a resident of Maine and have the proper license. Did you know the wait list for a Maine lobster license can be more than a decade long! Find out more about the laws of lobstering.
No. Lobsters may be caught all year long. There are some months of the year that the catch is at its peak. Learn more about Maine lobster seasons.
On July 5, 2017 the world’s longest lobster roll was constructed in Shediac, Canada and measured 180 feet long! It took 125 lb. of lobster meat at a value of $5000.
The Burnham & Morrill Company opened a lobster cannery in 1836. This Portland, ME company is now better known as B&M, now famous for its baked beans.
Lobsters are tagged by researchers to evaluate migration patterns and other characteristics. According to this research one lobster holds the record for traveling 225 miles. This particular lobster was tagged off the Continental Shelf and recovered at Port Jefferson, Long Island, New York! Also, there was a Lobster that traveled from Maine to Nantucket (273 miles) but some argue those results.
The American lobster, Homarus americanus has been commercially fished for 150 years.
There are about 4500 lobstermen harvesting lobster in Maine.
In the state of Maine 800 is maximum number of traps each lobsterman may set.
Although they are sometimes called “cockroaches of the sea”, they are not in the class Insecta and are not insects. Lobsters have two body segments, while an insect has three. The lobster also has eight legs, while insects have six. Lobsters like other crustaceans are arthropods and belong to the subphylum Crustacea. Meaning they have a segmented body, jointed legs and an exoskeleton which they molt at intervals.
They deliberately dehydrate themselves as they get closer to molting time! They get smaller, slip out of the old shell, then they eat the old shell for all those minerals and harden up a new bigger shell.
A one pound female usually carries around 8000 eggs! Thats 9 to 12 months inside her body and another 9 to 12 outside before they hatch and float to the surface of the ocean. Sadly only 0.1% of those prelarvae survive longer than six weeks after hatching.
Lobsters are truly remarkable (and delicious) creatures! It’s hard to believe there was ever a time when they were used as fertilizer for crops. In fact, we’re glad that they aren’t because it leaves more of them for us to sell and for you to eat.