Maine Lobster Laws – So What’s the Catch?

Lobster fishing is vital to Maine’s economy and culture. To ensure its sustainability, the state has implemented laws regulating lobster harvesting, including size limits and gear restrictions. These laws promote responsible fishing practices and prevent overfishing.

Maine Lobster Laws

By adhering to the regulations, lobstermen, and consumers can help protect Maine’s lobster fishery and ensure a sustainable livelihood for future generations.

Lobster Season & Licensing

Timing Matters: Lobster Harvesting Season

Lobstermen are permitted to set traps from June 1st to September 1st. On Saturdays, traps can be hauled after 4 pm, but on Sundays, they cannot be hauled at any time.

These regulations ensure that the lobster population remains sustainable, preventing overfishing and providing ample time for lobsters to grow and replenish their stocks.

Non-Commercial Lobster/crab Harvesting License

If you are interested in lobster and crab fishing as a hobby, obtaining a non-commercial lobster/crab harvesting license is important. The Maine Department of Marine Resources is responsible for issuing these licenses, and interested individuals can apply through their website or in person at the appropriate office.

Some key points about this license are:

  • Age requirements: The license is available to those who are 12 years of age or older.
  • Trap limits: Non-commercial license holders are limited to using five lobster traps.
  • Catch restrictions: Lobsters must adhere to minimum and maximum size limits, and egg-bearing females are strictly protected. Violations involving possession of egg-bearing lobsters or removing eggs can result in significant fines.

Lobster Sizes: What Size Can You Catch?

Lobster fishing is an important industry in Maine, but there are strict regulations in place to ensure the sustainability of the lobster population. According to the Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance, lobsters that are legally catchable must have a shell length between 3-1/4 inches and 5 inches.

Any lobsters caught outside of this size range must be returned to the ocean to allow them to grow and reproduce. To ensure compliance with these regulations, lobstermen use a gauge to measure the size of their catch.

This helps to preserve the young lobster population and maintain the sustainability of the fishery. However, a 2019 survey found that almost 80% of lobsters caught in traps were below the legal size range and had to be released back into the ocean.

Violating these regulations can result in severe fines. For example, possessing more than five lobsters that exceed the maximum size limit can result in a fine of $400 for each lobster. If egg-bearing female lobsters are not immediately released back into the waters, fines can range from $2,500 to over $10,000.

Recently, there have been discussions about changing the current size regulations to protect the lobster population better. Although no new rules have been put in place yet, these changes could result in stricter size limitations in the future, further ensuring the sustainability of the lobster fishery in Maine.

Egg-Bearing Females: Why They’re Off-Limits

Maine has strict laws in place to protect egg-bearing female lobsters, also known as “berried” lobsters, to prevent overfishing and maintain a sustainable lobster population for future generations. Female lobsters play a critical role in this process by laying eggs that hatch into new lobsters.

The reproductive process begins when a female lobster lays fertilized eggs that attach to the underside of her abdomen, a phase known as spawning. The eggs take about 9 to 11 months to hatch, during which time the female lobster keeps the eggs under her tail. The eggs are as small as a pinhead, making it easy to identify egg-bearing females.

Maine lobster laws prohibit the harvesting of egg-bearing females. If a berried lobster ends up in a trap, lobstermen are required to perform a “v-notch” in the tail flipper to the right of center, signifying that she was once caught as an egger. This mark ensures that, even after her eggs are released, other lobstermen will be able to recognize and return her to the water, allowing her to reproduce more in the future Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance.

These measures reflect the state’s commitment to sustainability and the protection of its iconic lobster industry. Violating these laws can result in hefty fines: capturing lobsters exceeding the size limit draws a $400 fine per lobster. In contrast, possession of many egg-bearing lobsters could incur a minimum fine of $2,500 and potentially up to $10,000.

The Type of Buoy

The lobster industry in Maine is heavily regulated, even down to the type of buoy used by lobstermen. Each fisherman must use a specific color combination for their buoys, which helps identify their gear. They must also comply with precise measurements:

  • Minimum buoy size: 3.5 inches in diameter and 3.5 inches in length
  • Maximum buoy size: not restricted

Lobstermen are also required to mark their statewide license number and the letter “L” (indicating lobster) on their buoys, which ensures that the buoys can be easily traced back to their registered owner in case they are lost or stolen.

The type of buoy used is also important for lobster conservation efforts. Certain buoys, such as breakaway buoys, are designed to reduce the risk of entanglement for marine mammals such as whales and dolphins.

Trap Limits

Maine’s Department of Marine Resources sets lobster trap limits to manage and conserve the fishery. Chapter 25 of their regulations governs lobster and crab fishing, including trawl limits and sustainability measures.

Each lobster management zone has specific rules for trap limits and gear configurations. The Maine DMR website provides detailed information on gear marking and modifications, which are crucial for lobster fishermen in these zones.

Maine Lobster Management Zones:

Effective May 1, 2022, new regulations protect North Atlantic right whales. The minimum traps per trawl requirements for each zone have been modified; maps are also available online.

  • Zone A: International Boundary Line with Canada, extending to the Exclusive Economic Zone boundary and intersecting with Zone B’s eastern boundary.
  • Zone B: Described in DMR Chapter 25.94 (2)(b), between the “three” line of latitude and the northern boundary of Hancock County.

Apart from trap limits and trawl requirements, lobster fishermen operating in Maine are obliged to adhere to additional regulations, including vessel ownership, seed lobster permits, and trap removal.

Lobster fishers must remain informed about these regulations to guarantee compliance and safeguard the long-term sustainability of Maine’s lobster fishery.

Penalties for Undersized or Oversized Lobsters

Maine has strict rules regarding the size of lobsters that can be caught to ensure the lobster population remains sustainable. Lobsters must be between 3-1/4 inches and 5 inches in carapace length to be legally harvested. If a lobster is smaller or larger, it must be returned to the ocean.

Violating these rules can result in significant penalties. Each violation carries a $500 fine and a $100 fine for the first five lobsters in violation. For every illegal lobster over the first five, there is a $200 fine. If the exact number of illegal lobsters cannot be determined, the penalty ranges from $1,000 to $5,000.

Compliance with these regulations is crucial for maintaining the sustainability of the lobster industry. These rules help to preserve the lobster population, support the livelihoods of countless fishermen, and ensure the overall sustainability of the Maine lobster industry.

Maine has specific regulations governing non-commercial lobstering activities to protect the lobster population. A Non-commercial Lobster license is required for personal consumption fishing.

License holders are allowed a maximum of 5 tags issued to their licensed traps, with no more than 10 tags per vessel. Female lobsters carrying eggs must be immediately released back into the waters, and the removal of eggs can attract a fine of $1000.

Lobsters caught must also meet specific size requirements for their species. Here is a summary of rules applicable to non-commercial lobstering:

  1. Obtain a non-commercial lobster license.
  2. Maximum of 5 tags per license holder, no more than 10 tags assigned to a single vessel.
  3. Adhere to size regulations for lobsters caught.
  4. Release egg-bearing female lobsters immediately.
  5. Do not remove eggs from lobsters.

By following these regulations, non-commercial lobster fishers can enjoy their activity while ensuring the preservation and sustainability of Maine’s lobster population. It’s crucial to remember that these rules protect the industry and contribute to maintaining the ecosystem’s health.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Lobsters Are You Allowed to Catch in Maine?

In Maine, lobster catch limits depend on the license type. Commercial fishermen have no limit, while recreational fishermen are restricted to 5 lobsters per day. Both groups must adhere to size and female restrictions.

Maine enforces strict regulations to safeguard the lobster population. According to the rules, any lobster caught in Maine must have a carapace measuring at least 3.25 inches and not exceeding 5 inches. Any lobster that falls outside of this size range is considered unlawful to catch and must be immediately released back into the water.

Can Tourists Catch Lobster in Maine?

Tourists in Maine can catch lobsters, but they need a recreational lobster license and must follow catch limits and size requirements. They can catch up to 5 lobsters per person per day while adhering to lobster size regulations.

Can Non-Residents Catch Lobster in Maine?

Non-residents in Maine can catch lobsters with a recreational lobster license. They have the same rules as residents: daily catch limits, size requirements, and no egg-bearing female catch. Get a non-resident recreational lobster license from the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

What Is the Largest Lobster You Can Catch in Maine?

Maine’s legal limit for lobsters is a carapace measuring five inches or less. Larger lobsters are protected by law for their crucial role in maintaining a healthy population and must be released if caught.

Conclusion: The Dos and Don’ts of Catching Lobsters in Maine

Maine’s lobster industry is vital. To ensure its sustainability, Maine has implemented lobster laws. Fishermen should follow size limits (3 ¼ to 5 inches) and gear regulations that protect marine life. Keep up to date with regulatory changes and news affecting the lobster industry. By following these principles, fishermen can enjoy a thriving lobster industry while preserving Maine’s marine ecosystem.

To summarize, here are the key things to do and avoid when fishing for lobsters in Maine:

  • Do catch lobsters within the legal size range (3 ¼ to 5 inches).
  • Don’t harvest juvenile or oversized lobsters.
  • Do comply with gear regulations and conservation measures.

Don’t overlook regulatory changes and news affecting the lobster industry.


        1. You should simply return the lobster to the seller and hopefully it will be returned to the sea. Since 1872, the harvesting egg-bearing females has been prohibited.

    1. You can check with the Department of Marine Resources.
      To obtain a non-commercial lobster license you are required to be a Maine resident.
      A. If registered to vote, is registered in Maine;
      B. If licensed to drive a motor vehicle, has made application for a Maine motor vehicle operator’s license;
      C. If the owner of one or more motor vehicles located within the State, has registered at least one of the motor vehicles in
      Maine; and
      D. If required to file a Maine income tax return on the previous April 15th, filed a Maine income tax return.

      To learn more see the Maine Department of Marine resources page on lobster licence requirements.

    2. Hi there! I’m writing a story that has a character who works on a lobster boat in Maine. I was wondering if June through August are the only months that lobsters are caught? And what do the people who catch them do during the other months of the year in order to make a living? Your website has been so helpful to me! Thank you for the information.

      1. That’s a great question. The short answer is that lobster fishing is year round endeavor in Maine. In fact a few brave souls will even set their traps in the dead of winter. The winter months will be more offshore lobstering, while in the summer it’s inshore fishing. Learn more about lobster fishing in Maine.

      1. It’s illegal for anyone but a licensed lobster fisher to do so, and NO one can pull for another. A parent can help a child with the boat, go with them, etc., but only the licensed person can pull a trap. If there are lobsters in a trap and the licensed person can’t pull them, family or etc should contact the Dept of Marine Resources for permission but last I knew it was so as to let the lobsters go. The fine is pretty high and they do manage to be around & appear, to check, so a call or visit is a very good idea. Extenuating circumstances may be considered, if they are contacted in advance.

    1. Sorry, the Maine DMR (Department of Marine Resources) makes it illegal for both commercial and recreational divers to catch lobster. In Massachusetts it is allowed, but you must be a resident and have a permit.

  1. hi,
    do the commercial lobsterman in Maine cut your traps like the commercial crabbers do here in Florida? the crabbers here act as if you have no right to set a few crab traps for your own use.

    1. For the majority of lobstermen and woman, lobstering is a livelihood, so the laws are strict for good reason. In the old days, you might get shot on the spot if you messed with a trap that was not yours. I could see how some commercial lobstermen might be angry at locals for encroaching on their territory. I am sure some commercial crabbers feel the same.

      Only Maine residents can apply for a recreational license, and a test is also required. You are allowed up to five traps and are NOT allowed to sell any of the lobsters you catch; and the lobsters are the use of the resident license holder only.

  2. While rules & regulations pertaining to such sought after commodities where there would likely be freeforalls & depletion of the lobster affecting commercial livlihoods, among others; these rules made me laugh out loud. They remind me of our local salmon, steehead, sturgeon rules with regard to the Columbia River in Oregon.

    We always joke that we need interpreters for all of the rules, and that the rules/regs are so convuluted:

    Sample faux rule:

    On the Oregon side of the mighty Columbia, on days that start with the letter “T,” you can catch anything between 7-22.5 lbs, unless the water temperature is below 50 degrees and the air is at least 70 degrees, then the fish has to be fin clipped and you have to stand on one foot while you cast out or troll the river. On the Washington side, on days that end in “S”, you must cross your eyes when setting barbless hooks & if the wind is blowing at all, you can only keep sturgeon over 10 feet long and if its raining or a month ending with the letter “R” anything is possible but, you cant keep anything that is considered a fish species.”

    Maine’s lobster rules seem just as complicated and/or convolluted. However, it saves us non-residents the time & effort of trying to figure anything out and instead sit our butts down at a local lobster eatery and enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labor.

    1. Hi- no the lobster laws in Maine are pretty straightforward. They do not seem as complicated as your laws for fishing. In Maine and Canada lobster men and women follow the best management practices to maintain and sustain live lobster stocks along the North Atlantic coast. Unfortunately, outside environmental factors including warming waters and pollution have negatively impacted lobsters sustainability.

  3. I own a home in Maine and am subjected to exceptionally high property taxes and provide an tremendous amount of support to local resident income. Maine, with the condescending regional bigotry “from away” attitude does not allow me to trap a single lobster.

    The attitudes, laws, bigotries, taxes, and ignorance are destined to Down East Maine failing to be a viable contribution to Maine and the USA. The geography is the redeemable quality, the residents are a scourge on the beautiful land they trash and abuse.

    1. I’ve lived in many different regions of the country, and, without exception, local bias exists everywhere but particularly in areas frequented by arrogant, well-heeled weasels with nicknames like Dick. Now if all you want to do is trap a lobster or two, why don’t you head down to your local wharf and ‘splain to one of the fisherman how your “exceptionally high property taxes” (compared to CT, MA, NY?) should entitle you to trap some lobstas! My guess is he’d be more than happy to take you out on his boat and teach you a thing or two about his craft. Having now lived in Maine but one vacation season, I’ve joined the local bigots’ calendar-watch for the Tuesday after Labor Day.

      1. These laws are archaic and akin to ridiculous immigration laws. Rather than prohibiting any trapping by non-residents, there could be strict limits on the number allowed to catch each season/year, etc. the license could be more expensive for non residents. People should be allowed to responsibly fish/trap. How many lobsters would a person be able to consume if they are not allowed to sell them? (Which I think is reasonable if someone doesn’t have a commercial license).

  4. I am in Maine every Summer for a month.
    I would like to do some of my own lobstering.
    Is it true that I cannot set traps for lobster if I am not a resident of Maine


  5. As a native of Maine I would suggest Richard divest himself of his Maine property and find somewhere else to recreate. The fact that the good people of Maine are husbanding a vital resource is evidently lost on him.

    1. I am in total agreement with Tim’s statement. I’m sure some tourists may find us difficult, or set in our ways, but CERTAINLY not a “scourge” on OUR home state. I for one would gladly help Richard pack.

  6. Sorry, my point is, I will gladly follow any law/rule that Maine implements, as long as I get to enjoy the beauty! I also believe, if you are only a summer resident, you should buy your lobsters from a local boat/store, its what helps to keep locals in business, and without them, it wouldn’t be the same place! Buy local!

  7. I am a tourist, even though my husband’s family has owned a home in Maine, on an island. It was built by his great Grandfather, before the ferry service even existed. They have all spent their summers here, since they were born. My first time here, I was in awe, its beauty is unexplainable and magical! When it’s time to go, I don’t want to leave, I want to go fishing everyday, and watch the sunset over the ocean from the back porch. At high tide, the water is only 20 feet away! As a tourist, I am grateful to to be able to spend time any here, and I love buying lobsters right from the boat, when they come in! There is nothing on earth that tastes as good as a Maine lobster just caught! These lobstermem and women work very hard, I wouldn’t want to catch my own, and possibly take from someone else’s livelihood. I wouldn’t expect, or take kindly, to someone coming into my kitchen at the restaurant and ask if they can cook their own food instead of ordering from my menu!!

    Side note….people who live in Maine are not a scourge, they are friendly and kind, and a lot of people wave to every car they pass! I can’t say that about any other state!

  8. I work at a chain retailer as a meat cutter/seafood specialist. We got our shipment of live lobsters yesterday 09-15-2021. One of the lobsters we received is a obviously berried female. What can we do? It is a Maine lobster and I am in NC.

    1. Yes, an egg bearing female should have been thrown back. I would contact your supplier directly.You should also check if they can trace their catch. Thanks for reaching out.

  9. I used to live in Maine as a child up on Mt Abrams in Locke Mills- can’t help but read all of these comments with the “Mainerd “ “LAAAABSTAAAAA” draw.
    My best childhood memories were visiting the local lobster trucks at the Oceanside on fridays- and catching a few amazing stories from the experts about their craft- it was magical- intelligent kind unique hardworking people !!!!thank you for all of the information and the free reliving of memories.

  10. My dad let his license expire many years ago, I am now 51 yrs old, and never had a license, I just met my dad a few years ago ,never knowing him until recently, I would have kept the license, if it was me, but is there any way to retrieve his old license? Renew it or reinstate it? At the time he let it go he had no heirs that wanted it so he let it go, but now he has an heir that wants one, Is it possible for me to get one? I would live in Maine if it was possible,I fell in love with the place and the people, Funny thing is with out knowing who my dad was when I was a child I fantasized about being a mainer and having a lobster boat and fishing there. But that was just a childhood fantasy, and now that I have a dad eho lives there, I’m considering moving there as well.

What are your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your personal data will be used to support your experience throughout this website, to manage access to your account, and for other purposes described in our privacy policy.