A Lesson About Lobsters

At a day old, baby lobsters look like fleas swimming in water.

When you buy that pound and a quarter lobster for dinner, they’re probably about seven or eight years old. Although no one knows how to determine the exact age of a lobster.

But there are a lot of dangers during those intervening years. In fact, of all the lobsters hatched from eggs, only one tenth of one percent will survive at all. If a female hatches 6,000 eggs, about six will survive.

After they reach about an inch long, maybe only ten percent of those six will survive. Lobster experts aren’t positive, but they guess that only about 2 lobsters out of 50,000 eggs will grow to legal size.

At a recent "Lobster Industry Day" in the State House, we saw the one-day-olds, as well as a 37-pounder. Officially, homarus americanus. And, I admit, impressive. But dead. He was captured in 1974. It’s thought that a lobster could live as long as 100 years.

The Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, which owns that large specimen, showed us everything from the pincher and crusher claws (there is a difference) to the mouth, swimmerets, and tail flippers. Even the eggs, which few non-lobstermen ever get to see.

You don’t get to see them, of course, because it’s illegal to keep a lobster with eggs attached. If, however, a female doesn’t have eggs, you can keep it. And, a lobster has to be at least 3 inches from the rear of the eye socket to the rear of the main body shell to be legal.

Due to states’ pride, the same lobster may be known as the Massachusetts lobster, or the Maine lobster, or the Canadian lobster, or the North Atlantic lobster, but the same creature is caught everywhere along the east coast from Newfoundland to North Carolina.

Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine catch 90 percent of the United State’s harvest. But Canada harvests more than all of the United States combined.

The lobstermen say, and they should know, that lobsters move around and hunt for food at night. They’re not scavengers and prefer fresh food, rather than dead things. They like most shellfish–crab, clams, mussels, sea urchins, even other lobsters.

Don’t worry, at least not yet, about running out of lobsters. For the past decade, catches have increased. (I say "catches" although the lobstermen say "landings.")

In 1999 almost 16-million pounds, some $59-million in value to fishermen, were brought ashore in Massachusetts alone. We are the second largest producer of lobster in the country. Maine is first.

The crustaceans are caught in traps, which just about everyone has seen. But, did you know that each trap has to have biodegradable escape routes so that if a trap is lost, the creatures already caught can escape.

Other facts I learned during the Massachusetts’ Lobstermen’s visit included the fact that there are some in rare colors–blue, yellow, or white. All–except white ones–turn red when cooked.

They can regenerate lost body parts, like claws, antennae or walking legs. And, lose those parts without pain.

So, cook them, and don’t feel guilty. (I boil, or steam, a pound and a half lobster for 20 minutes. Add salt to the water if you want, or use seawater. When an antennae pulls out easily, they’re done.)

Now, of course, that whole lobster isn’t edible because you have to subtract the weight of the shell. But, there are only 98 calories in 100 grams, or 3 ounces of meat. (If you don’t know how to eat one, call the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association at 781/545-6984 and ask them to send you directions.)

Then, melt butter and enjoy.

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