The weeks before Memorial Day mark the traditional start of the lobster fishing season in Maine and Massachusetts as thousands of boats all along the lobster coast begin heading out to sea each day to lay their traps and begin the harvest.
While the fishermen are happy to get going again, those already hauling traps have been surprised, according to reports. They are catching an unusual amount of early “shedders,” or new shell lobster.
Although some Maine Fishermen operate year round, the lobster themselves become more active in the spring making them easier to catch. Summer and fall are the prime months of the harvest, but all the fishermen start to get to work this time of year.
The experienced boat owners know the lobster traps will not be nearly as full in April and May as they will be in the summer when the water is warmer. For example, in April 2010 the state of Maine reported 2 million pounds of lobster were caught. In August 2010, more than 20 million pounds were harvested.
But new shell lobster are dominating the catch now in Southern Maine.
According to reports, the number of “shedders” or soft-shell lobster being caught in Southern Maine is way above normal. Normally the soft-shell lobster doesn’t show up until mid-June or July. This month the reports show that 60 percent of the southern Maine catch is composed of soft-shell lobster, which is unheard of for this time of year.
Some experts think this year’s unusually warm winter and warm spring may have had an unusual effect on the lobster, causing the shedding season to start early.
Soft-shell lobsters have less meat per pound and don’t ship well because of their delicate exteriors. Lobster men get a lower boat price from wholesalers, who in turn charge stores, restaurants and consumers less for soft-shelled lobsters than for ones with sturdy hard shells. Opinions vary on which taste better. Soft-shell lobster meat is not good for some recipes and is too stringy to be cooked on the grill.
Carl Wilson, a marine research scientist and lead lobster biologist with the state Department of Marine Resources, told the Maine Forecaster the early arrival of shedders could just be an early kick-off to the season. But, it could also signify a change in the normal lobster harvest schedule.
During July and August shedders usually account for 80% of the Maine harvest, reports show. This is because lobster fishermen follow the lobsters as they move from shallow water to deep water. Soft-shell lobster is plentiful during those months and they are easy to catch because they are ravenous. The lobster must eat constantly to grow into their new, larger shells.
No one knows what to expect or how this spring’s early shedding of shells will effect the overall lobster season. But for the fishermen out on the water early this season the shedders are coming early making the daily catch much bigger than normal for this time of year. So for now, the Maine lobster fishing season appears to be off to a good start.