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T. M. PRUDDEN
The Bond Wheelwright Company
Copyright, © , 1962 by T. M. Prudden
All rights reserved.
Second printing, 1967.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 62-21299
Printed in the U.S.A.
The Knowlton & McLeary Company
3 Church Street, Farmington, Maine
In Canada, Burns & MacEachern, Don Mills, Ontario
There have been many articles written about the
American lobster, but two such works stand out as being
particularly authoritative and comprehensive. One is a sec-
tion of the book The Fisheries and Fishing Industries of the
United States, compiled by George Brown Goode, Assistant
Director of the United States National Museum. It was
published in 1884 by the U. S. Commission of Fisheries.
The second book, The Natural History of the American
Lobster, by Dr. Francis Hobart Herrick, was published in
1895 as a bulletin of the U. S. Commission of Fisheries.
Both of these books are excellent in their detail and ac-
curacy, but even Dr. Herrick's book is more than sixty-five
years old. They deal largely with the biology and anatomy
of lobsters, and are scholarly works in scientific language.
But in sixty-five years the increasing demand for lob-
sters has resulted in renewed researching of lobster habits,
and some improvements in the methods of catching. This
work intends to supplement, and bring up to date, Dr. Her-
rick's fine book. It is written for the use of those interested
in the lobster industry, and is shorn of scientific language.
Notice how often it has been necessary to use the words
" probably " or " it is believed." This indefiniteness is neces-
sary because our knowledge of lobsters is far from complete.
This work is indebted to the knowledge of many men.
It is, in part, a compilation of information furnished by
those who are foremost in their own trades.
Space does not permit listing all of them, but I am par-
ticularly indebted to :
Dr. Herrick and his Natural History of the American
Maine Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries
Dr. H. J. Thomas of the Scottish Marine Laboratory
Maine Coast Fishennan
Physiological Laboratory, Charlottenlund, Denmark
Maine Agricultural Experiment Station
William Benson, Portland, Maine
Harry Georgeopoulous, East Coast Lobster Pound
J. H. Patteson, Consolidated Lobster Company
Albert E. Brooks, Brooks-Sprague Corporation
Edward Myers, Saltwater Farm
John Hughes, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fish-
eries, Oak Bluffs, Mass.
U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service
William C. Shroeder, Woods Hole Oceanographic In-
Ernest W. Barnes, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries
Harold Look, Jr., Rockland, Maine
I am indebted to Robert Dow and Phillip Goggins of
Maine Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries, who have
reviewed this work, advised on its material, and corrected
errors of fact.
T. M. Prudden
PORTRAIT OF A LOBSTERMAN 1
Nature of Lobsters 5
•History of the Industry 6
Sources of Lobsters 10
Effect of Fresh Water on Lobsters 11
Bleeding and " Thrown Claws " 11
Migration of Lobsters 12
Water Temperature vs Catch 15
Increase in Fishing Effort 16
•The Senses 17
Taste and smell 18
Breeding Habits 23
Sex differences 23
Red Tail 29
Shell disease 31
Plug rot 34
Gas disease 35
Gill disease 35
Bowel movement 35
Sea Fleas 36
Measuring a Lobster 36
Means of Catching
The American pot
Criticism of design
The steel pot
The plastic pot
The British or Scotch
The Leakey pot
The Cornish pot
The French pot
The Dutch pot
Care of Pots
Light for Lures
Artificial Sea Water for Inland Tanks
The influence of temperature
Storage conditions at low temperature
Supply of oxygen
The tank system
Availability of equipment
Salinity and temperature of water
Location of pound
Shipping of Lobsters
Packing with shavings
In a plastic bag
Preservation of Lobster Meat
Pacific Coast Transplanting
Artificial Rearing of Lobsters
What determines the price?
Premium lobsters 140
Waste and spoilage 141
Consumer wants 146
A plea for research 151
Suggested Lines of Thought for Inventors 152
Cooking and Preparing Lobsters 154
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
1. The empty moulted shell 22
2. " Berried " or " seed " lobster 25
3. Shell disease 32
4. Measuring a lobster 37
5. Hoop net 38
6. Traps and buoys 40
7. Lobster creel— side view 46
8. The Leakey " inhibitor " 48
9. The Cornish pot 48
10. The French pot 51
11. The Dutch pot 52
12. Plugging a lobster 57
13. Banding with tabbed bands 59
14. Tabbed rubber band 60
15. Light lure 84
16. The sealed glass globe 86
17. One-day-old lobsters 130
18. Maine rubber band 142
19. Snap disk 143
20. Snap disk 143
21. Marked wooden plug 143
LIST OF TABLES
Influence of water temperature on lobster catch 16
The role of traps in lobster fishing 17
Catch of lobsters, by creel types 47
Weighted average lengths of lobsters caught, by
creel types 49
Comparison of catch between treated and un-
treated traps 55
Comparative catchability of wood preservatives
used on traps 55
Schmaltz recipe for artificial sea water 91
Inland tank temperature effect on lobsters 97
Circulating water pump capacities 100
Graph showing mortality curve in fresh natural
sea water 104
Symptoms and probable causes of death of lob-
sters IN RECIRCULATED HOLDING SYSTEMS 106
Do's and Do not's of operating a recirculated-
REFRIGERATED LOBSTER STORAGE SYSTEM 107
NOTE THESE TWO STARS: * *
These stars mark parts of this work which are based
on observations by lobstermen and others. Their opinions
have been carefully cnlled to include only statements be-
lieved to be true.
But such observations are not scientifically proven
PORTRAIT OF A LOBSTERMAN
Most problems in lobstering have to do with people.
Hence, this picture of a lobsterman is placed at the begin-
ning of this book.
Lobstermen are often a breed apart, as anyone might
be who worked alone most of the day with only the expanse
of the sea and his own thoughts to keep him company. The
interest of his job lies in the repeated anticipation of what
catch will be in the next pot he hauls; and if it is empty,
hope and interest are revived for the succeeding haul. It is
a lonely job, requiring getting up before dawn, and can be
cold and wet and discouraging. The result is a distinctive
personality, as described by a salesman of lobster plugs.
Two brothers, young fellers, maybe thirty years
old, run a well-found marine store. It is well up on
the ledge and is reached by a sandy, two-rut road that
seems to lead nowhere. But it does arrive at the shore-
front in a clearing with several summer cottages, many
of them overhanging the rocks.
The two brothers are interested in plugs; they are
courteous and on their toes. They think the plugs are
good, but they want " Hen-ray's " opinion ( Hen-ray
being mentioned with deference as though he were the
last word in lobstering ) .
Fine. The three of them will go and tell the story
to Hen-ray. They troop down a gravelly path, zig-zag-
ging through the blueberry bushes and ending in a
gangway spanning the water to a float.
Hen-ray's vessel is the only one tied up, and is a
fine craft— a 36-footer with a high stem, a handsome
sheer and a square transom, painted white. Her port
side is scarred, in spite of the horizontal strips of wood
to protect against the banging of lobster pots. A cock-
pit takes up three-quarters of her length, and at present
holds two stinking baskets of bait, and several lobster
pots standing on end.
It is Hen-ray who dominates the picture. He isn't
tall, perhaps five and a half feet, and he isn't young-
he might be fifty, but his two-day growth of grey
stubble may add to his age. He wears faded dungarees
tucked into knee-length rubber boots, a gaudy flannel
shirt, and a long-visored Portegee fisherman's cap. He
chews tobacco slowly and monotonously.
Hen-ray has a strong face, seamed and tanned, and
piercing blue eyes which impel one to look back with
equal concentration. He is not the smiling type, and
gravely greets the two brothers with " Mornin', boys."
The brothers make the introduction, and the sales-
man tells the story of the plugs. Hen-ray listens impas-
sively, not quite antagonistic, but rather holding him-
self coldly aloof from this city slicker in store clothing
who is brash enough to tell him about plugging lob-
sters. The sales talk ends with " Here's a handful. You
There is no response in Hen-ray's face as he re-
ceives the plugs in a big knuckled hand. He doesn't
even look at them, but continues to coldly and silently
appraise this stranger. His jaws chomp on and the ten-
sion grows. Then he does examine the pile of plugs. He
doesn't take one up singly to test its sharp point or
scrutinize its shape. He is deliberate, and one can feel
his unspoken contempt for them. Finally, he tosses the
handful over his shoulder into the water, leans to the
rail to spit overside, and says " Them plugs ain't wuth
a good Goddam." He looks up with an icy glare to
show that he isn't to be taken in by any lubber who
doesn't know lobstering.
Of course, the salesman is angry. And he's also
aware that Hen-ray expects him to be angry. The city
feller swallows a couple of times to absorb the shock,
and keeps glaring back just as piercingly as Hen-ray is
ABOUT LOBSTERS 3
looking at him. He takes out another handful of plugs,
slowly and deliberately, and holds them out to Hen-ray.
He tries to grin as he says, " Maybe so, Captain, but
suppose you really examine these before you heave
Hen-ray receives the plugs, never taking his eyes
away from the stranger, and just a twinkle replaces
their frigid antagonism. It is enough to make his whole
face light up. He spits again, and sits down on the
wash-rail to examine the plugs with the sure move-
ments of an expert.
When he looks up again he addresses the brothers:
" Don't look so bad. I'll try 'em."
This is a portrait of one lobsterman.
Nature of Lobsters
Lobsters are scavengers. They are also cannibals.
They are essentially a bottom-living animal, using their
powers of swimming only in an emergency. Caught lobsters
seem sluggish, but in their natural element lobsters are
agile, wary, pugnacious, capable of defending themselves
against larger enemies, and on occasion and for short dis-
tances they exhibit surprising speed. Where several lob-
sters of equal size are kept in a tank they will usually live
in peace. But if one is injured, as by the loss of a claw, it
will be quickly attacked by the stronger and destroyed.
This trait is one reason for plugging a lobster's claw.
Like all scavengers, they have highly developed senses
for locating their food. 1
Lobsters are essentially creatures of twilight, and ex-
plore the bottom in search of food mainly after sundown or
at night, when it is usually more active than in daylight.
Lobstermen know this, and it is the reason they leave pots
down overnight. -
The lobsters of England, Scotland, and northern Eu-
rope are true lobsters in that they have crusher claws, as
distinguished from crawfish and the so-called African " lob-
sters." They differ from the American lobster only slightly,
chiefly in the rostrum or beak, which is narrower in the Eu-
ropean lobster and has teeth only on its upper margin.
European lobsters are usually smaller than the American.
Lobsters were in unbelievable abundance in the early
days. Those thrown up on the beaches were a nuisance,
and were used for fertilizer. A Hingham historian reports
windrows of lobsters eighteen inches deep cast up after a
hard storm. In early Plymouth days any youngster could
wade out and capture by hand all he needed. An early re-
1 See Taste, page 18.
2 See Sight, page 17.
6 ABOUT LOBSTERS
port records that lobsters five and six feet long were caught
in New York Bay.
Lobster fishing as a separate industry seems to date
from late 1700, and was first developed on the coast of
Massachusetts, particularly Cape Cod. Some lobstering was
done among the Elizabeth Islands and along the coast of
Connecticut as early as 1810. Strangely enough, this indus-
try was not extended to the coast of Maine until 1840.
In a pamphlet by Robert L. Dow, " The Story of the
Maine Lobster," published by Maine Sea and Shore Fish-
eries, it says:
The economic possibilities of the Maine lobster
fishery were realized by nearly all pre-colonial explorers
from England and Europe, even if almost two and one-
half centuries were to elapse before a real lobster in-
dustry was established.
Among the specific references to the lobster re-
source of the Maine coast is that contained in Rosier's
account of Waymouth's voyage to Maine in 1605.
Rosier said, " And towards night we drew with a small
net of twenty fathoms very nigh the shore; we got about
thirty very good and great lobsters .... which I omit
not to report, because it sheweth how great a profit
the fishing would be .... "
That the Maine lobster was appreciated by the
colonists is substantiated by the many references to
their dependence upon the crustaceans for much of
their food. However, the actual commercial develop-
ment of the fishery did not take place until many years
Just when Maine lobsters were first marketed is
not entirely clear but the commercial importance of
the fishery in supplying out-of-state markets did not
come about until after 1840. Records of this period
show that the lobster supply near the large market
areas of eastern Massachusetts had declined appreci-
ably from the beginning of the nineteenth century. Ob-
servers believed that this decline in Massachusetts pro-
duction was due to increased fishing intensity, lack of
conservation, and a greater demand for the product.
It was during the decade 1840 to 1850 that Massa-
chusetts dealers began looking to the Maine lobster
grounds for a continuing supply of the species. Al-
though some lobster fishing was done by local fisher-
men, even on a commercial scale, a large part of the
annual catch was taken by Massachusetts boats operat-
ing in Maine waters.
Incidents comparable to the experience of one
Captain Church and his smack Monticello in New Har-
bor are characteristic of the early development of the
lobster industry in Maine. Church and his crew sailed
into New Harbor in 1853 and began lobster fishing.
Using hoop-net pots, Church's fishing operations were
so intensive and his catch so large that the citizens of
New Harbor threatened to drive him out of the harbor
unless he ceased " catching up all the lobsters."
Production of lobsters on a commercial scale is be-
lieved to have been started in Western Maine waters
about 1840. Gradually the fishery extended eastward,
to Penobscot Bay by the late 1840's and to Eastport by
1855. It would appear that the bulk of the fishing was
carried on by non-resident fishermen.
A demand for the fresh product in the large mar-
keting areas of New York and Boston induced both
resident and non-resident fishermen to specialize in the
catching of lobsters; however, the history of the Maine
canning industry indicates that the processing of lob-
ster meat in hermetically sealed containers did more to
stimulate the widespread exploitation of the resource
than did the fresh market.
It is noteworthy that " the introduction of the lob-
ster canning process at Eastport .... dates the begin-
ning of the extensive canning interests of the United
States in all its branches."
Employing canning methods obtained from France
by Vay of Scotland and Nova Scotia, experiments in
packing lobster meat were commenced in Eastport
about 1840. By 1843 techniques had been so improved
that the product was considered to be marketable. Al-
though lobsters for the Eastport cannery during the
early years had to be brought by smack from the west-
ern part of the state, the success of the new venture
led, within the next thirty-five years, to the construc-
tion of twenty-three factories scattered along the coast
as far west as Portland.
The spreading fame of Maine lobsters and the
lack of adequate facilities for proper distribution of the
fresh product were the two factors which stimulated
the canning industry. As early as 1854 large quantities
of Maine canned lobster were being shipped to Cali-
fornia and to foreign markets.
An interesting sidelight on the canned lobster in-
dustry is that in 1879 a Southwest Harbor firm was
canning whole lobster in the shell for the export trade.
These lobsters were intended primarily for garnishing
Unfortunately, commercial catch data were not
compiled prior to 1880 and even for some years there-
after but incompletely. According to estimates made
in 1880 when nearly nine and one-half million pounds
of lobsters were used to produce two million pounds of
the canned product, the peak of canned lobster pro-
duction came in 1870, and was followed by a decade of
Restrictions affecting the canning of lobsters were
first passed by the Maine legislature in 1872. From
that time on the commercial importance of this phase
of the lobster industry rapidly decreased. Subsequent
legislation culminated in the so-called 10^-inch lobster
law of 1895, a measure which put an abrupt end to an
industry which had maintained itself by carefully
ABOUT LOBSTERS 9
avoiding even the most elementary conservation prac-
The commissioner of Sea and Shore Fisheries said
of this law in 1904, "The (lobster) canning business,
which received the blow given by the legislature of
1895 when it repealed the nine-inch law died in that
year, and with the death of the canning industry the
lobster business of the state commenced to revive."
Overdue as had been the end of the Maine canned
lobster industry by 1895, this industry, nevertheless,
had served several useful purposes. It had brought
about the first exploitation, on a broad commercial
basis, of the Maine lobster resource. It served to di-
versify fishing activities and to broaden the economy
of coastal areas. It stimulated competition from the
fresh lobster industry and forced the latter to improve
handling, transportation and distribution methods and
facilities. In a negative way, the canning industry had
made obvious the need for conservation, law enforce-
ment, and the elimination of prodigal waste in the
Following the final elimination of canning as an
industrial factor, the fresh lobster industry took over
the commercialization of the fishery in its entirety. Al-
though it is uncertain when tidal pounds 'and other
holding devices were first introduced into Maine
waters, by 1904 twenty-six had been built with a total
storage capacity of one and one-half million lobsters.
Storage facilities currently employed for the holding
of lobsters consist of some forty tidal pounds and ap-
proximately one thousand tanks and cars. It is possible
to store nearly five million pounds of lobsters in these
various holding devices.
To the fresh market area, within the limitations im-
posed on the live product by transportation and distri-
bution facilities, holding devices provide much the
same marketing service today as did the canneries to
10 ABOUT LOBSTERS
the canned foods market years ago. Live storage
pounds have made possible the development and main-
tenance of more stable marketing conditions.
Sources of Lobsters 3
There are two sources of lobsters consumed in the
United States: domestic and Canadian. Practically all the
U. S. lobsters are consumed in this country. Exports to
Europe and Canada are negligible. Canadian lobsters are
imported in response to the strong U. S. demand. About 65
to 80 per cent of the Canadian catch is exported to the U. S.
This Canadian supply is an important factor in our lobster
industry. Over 22 million pounds of live lobsters and frozen
lobster meat and 2 million pounds of canned meat were im-
ported in 1957. Maine catches were 24 million pounds.
Actually, Canada's contribution to the U. S. consumer of
lobsters is greater than these statistics indicate. First, the
U. S. catch represents the lobsters caught, not the lobsters
sold to large dealers, because mortalities occur during
handling and holding operations. The Canadian imports
represent lobsters which have survived these initial mortali-
ties. Second, some of the Canadian imports are frozen
lobster meat which requires about four pounds of live lob-
ster for one pound of meat.
Both U. S. and Canadian lobster production have in-
creased during recent years. For example, in 1938-1947, the
average U. S. catch was 12 million pounds, and in 1948-1957,
21 million pounds. The corresponding Canadian catches
were 34 and 47 million pounds.
In general, the lobster industry is in a fairly good eco-
nomic condition compared to the years prior to World War
II. It is not a source of great profit on either primary or
secondary level, but it does provide a living for many peo-
ple. As long as the industry shows no driving ambition to
increase profits by modern methods of fishing, handling, and
Information herein is taken from Leslie Scattergood and Robert L. Dow,
"The Lobster Industry" (18th Report), presented at the 26th Meeting,
North Atlantic Section, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
ABOUT LOBSTERS 11
processing, we can anticipate that fishermen will not ask for
Lobsters will not live in fresh or brackish water, al-
though it is debatable as to whether a slight admixture of
fresh water is harmful to them or not. They are caught at
the mouths of large rivers— as at Westport Island, Maine,
where the water is decidedly brackish on top, but when
placed in surface cars in the same locality they are said to
perish quickly, indicating that the water must be much
more salty at the bottom.
Lobsters affected by fresh water, particularly in tanks,
will be swollen and puffy at the junction of the tail and
solid shell. This swelling is so typical that the lobster dealer
can usually diagnose the cause.
The ranges of a lobster in depth are from low water to
225 fathoms. At such a depth the fishing with pots is un-
economical, the cost of so much warp is too great an invest-
ment, and the hauling of this much line takes too long.
Twenty fathoms is the usual fishing depth.
Lobsters prefer a rocky bottom but flourish on gravel
or sand bottom, especially those partially covered with the
larger seaweeds such as kelp. This vegetation is not es-
sential, for in times past they were notoriously plentiful on
the bare sands off Provincetown. The kelp is probably at-
tractive in shading the lobsters and hiding them from ene-
mies. Lobsters apparently will live on any hard bottom
where they can find food. Mud bottom is rarely attractive
except in winter when some lobsters will burrow into mud,
and when caught have mud adhering to their shells.
Bleeding and " Thrown " Claws
Bleeding of a lobster can be caused by a lost claw or a
" thrown " claw. Soon after a claw is " thrown," the stump
is covered with a crust of coagulated blood which prevents
12 ABOUT LOBSTERS
further bleeding until a skin is formed. When a claw plug is
lost, however, the lobster does not so readily cease to bleed,
probably due to internal injury to the flesh of the claw
caused by the insertion of the plug. Thus a lost plug is
very likely to cause the death of the lobster unless it is kept
in sea water. A few lobstermen recognize this frailty and
keep half a barrel of circulating sea water in the cockpit.
The plugged lobsters are dropped into this barrel and are
protected by the salt water from bleeding until a clot has
The " throwing " of a claw does not occur between any
of the joints but always at one particular point, near the up-
per end of the second or double joint, where it is smallest
and encircled by a distinct groove. The claw cannot be
broken off at this or any other place by main force without
injury to the lobster, yet the lobster is able to " throw " its
claw without any fuss or warning.
It is a common belief of lobstermen that a lobster * *
which has lost a claw or been seriously maimed in any
way will not shed until the injury has been repaired.
One lobsterman, whose statements are respected, re-
ports that bleeding can be stopped and the woimd
" cauterized " by applying ice, and that the shell of a
soft lobster can be temporarily hardened by ice.
Most lobstermen agree that lobsters move offshore
in cold weather and are sluggish and not eager for
food. It is a fact hard to prove. It may be that lobsters
have an instinct to protect themselves from the deep
waves of winter storms, and that this instinct is trig-
gered by the approach of cold weather. Thus any sea-
ward migration might be in search of deeper, safer
water rather than for warmer water. A plausible argu-
ment can be presented that lobsters hibernate some-
what like bears, and hardly move at all. The certain
fact is that they are little attracted by bait in winter.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 13
Lobstermen believe that in winter it takes hours * *
for a lobster to sluggishly drag himself even a few feet
to seek his food. Hence, the hauling of a pot daily in
cold winter— even if the weather permitted— with the
consequent scaring of a lobster which has started to
crawl to the pot, does not bring good results.
Even in summer, some excellent lobstermen prefer
a two-day set if they want to catch big ones. Their
theory is that large lobsters are always sluggish and
take hours to crawl to a pot. Thus it would seem that
the best fishing would be through having twice as
many pots as can be hauled in one day but only haul
half of them each day.
If lobster migrations along the coast at any season were
of considerable amount, it is evident that regions once de-
pleted—as Provincetown— would be restocked by accessions
from neighboring parts. Apparently this does not occur,
and it seems as though each section of the coast is inhabited
by a colony which tends to stay on its home grounds, so that
if its numbers be once seriously depleted, its recovery will
A scientific study of lobster migration by Dr. D. G.
Wilder of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada is re-
ported in detail in Maine Coast Fisherman of June 1957.
It says in part:
Knowledge of lobster movements is so basic to
sound management that the subject has received a
great deal of attention in Canada, the United States
and northern Europe.
In Canada, lobster tagging has been carried on for
over twenty-five years. Only lobsters in good condi-
tion were tagged, and the size and sex of each was
recorded. The lobsters were liberated up to ten miles
offshore at many different points around the coast.
Over 100,000 lobsters have been tagged and over
half of these have been recaptured by fishermen. Of
one particular lot of 25,025, 16,696 were recaptured.
14 ABOUT LOBSTERS
None of these had moved from one area to the other—
a distance of about ten miles.
These tagging results, which are in general agree-
ment with those reported from other countries, show
that lobsters are not truly migratory. The great ma-
jority of tagged lobsters which have been recaptured
were caught very close to the place where they were
liberated. The few that do move appreciable distances
seem to do so in a more or less random manner. Of
more than 50,000 tagged lobsters, only three moved as
much as sixty miles. It appears, therefore, that the lob-
ster population is made up of a series of separate, inde-
pendent stocks with very little mixing between areas.
This conclusion is confirmed by the striking differences
in the color, shape, sizes and sex ratios of lobsters from
different areas. Rather marked differences have been
observed in stocks separated by only a few miles. There
is no evidence in the tagging results to suggest that
lobsters make seasonal migration on and off shore. It
is possible that in certain areas lobsters leave the im-
mediate shore line and move into somewhat deeper
water as winter approaches, but the tagged lobsters
gave no indication of such behaviour.
In a later article, Dr. Wilder and R. C. Murray write:
It seems evident from our taggings that offshore
and onshore movements have no appreciable effect on
the catch of lobsters. How then do fishermen get the
impression that such movements occur? Actual changes
in the abundance and activity provide a logical ex-
In the fall of the year the shallow inshore waters
are relatively warm, the deeper offshore waters, con-
siderably cooler. When the season opens, lobsters are
plentiful and trap readily in the warm inshore waters.
Intensive fishing soon reduces the inshore stocks, the
shallow water cools rapidly, and the remaining lobsters
become less active and harder to catch. As a result, the
ABOUT LOBSTERS 15
inshore catch falls off rapidly. At this stage the offshore
stocks have not been fished hard, and the deeper water
has not yet cooled a great deal. Consequently, the best
fishing at this time is found offshore. Gradually, how-
ever, as the offshore stocks are reduced by fishing, and
the deeper water cools, the catches drop off. In the
spring, the inshore waters warm up quickly and the
lobsters which escaped the fall fishery again become
active and provide fairly good fishing. This pattern of
fishing gives the false impression that the lobsters move
offshore and onshore. 4
Similar tagging and tests have been run by the Depart-
ment of Natural Resources of Massachusetts, and by
Maine's Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries. The num-
ber of tagged lobsters in each case was only a fraction of
the number tagged by Canada, but the conclusions were the
same, i.e., that lobsters cannot be considered migratory.
In the course of these tests there have been outstanding
contradictions, such as the lobster tagged in Wareham and
caught in Boston, presumably having passed through the
Cape Cod canal, a journey of one hundred and thirteen
days; or an oversized lobster tagged in Penobscot Bay and
retrieved on the north shore of Massachusetts. These ex-
ceptions do not affect the overall picture; their number is
too small, and it is probable that there are unusually vigor-
ous and venturesome specimens among lobsters just as
there are among all animals.
It has been suggested that limited migration might
apply to smaller lobsters but not necessarily to the bigger
Water Temperature vs. Catch
There is some difference in opinion between scientists
to account for the fluctuations of the lobster catch in differ-
ent seasons of the year. Robert L. Dow has published a
nine-year record of lobster landings in July and August in
4 Maine Coast Fisherman (September, 1958).
16 ABOUT LOBSTERS
relation to water temperatures in the earlier spring months.
He also shows the price fluctuations during this period.
in millions of
millions of lbs.
lb. in cents
These figures show that the catch in July-August is
greater when the sea water is wanner during the preceding
April to May, but the landings fall off in the succeeding
January to June. Notice how uniform the total catch is for
each January to July except when warm spring water causes
a greater catch in July to August. These figures permit a
reasonable estimate of what the catch will be in midsummer
if the spring water temperatures are known.
Increase in Fishing Effort
The number of traps in operation is a good indication
of how hard lobsters are fished, and the records of their
number are more consistent, and include a longer period of
years, than any other factor likely to influence the magni-
tude of landings.
Thus the following figures are important. 5
5 Taken from Robert L. Dow, " The Role of Traps in the Maine Lobster
ABOUT LOBSTERS 17
Number of Traps
Landings in Millions
Sight. The eye of a lobster is a compound eye, as is
that of the common house fly, and consists of perhaps 10,000
facets or little eyes. Sight is the lobster's poorest sense, and
is probably almost nil in bright light. In fact, the greater
part of its life is spent at depths where clear vision is im-
possible from lack of light, which indicates that sight ought
to play but a small part in its daily life.
It has been suggested that some of the multiple * *
eyes might be tremendously sensitive to light on a scale
beyond our human comprehension. This is similar to
the phenomenal acuteness of a hawk's eye, which is
said to be able to sight a rabbit when the hawk is a mile
high in the sky. If this were so, a lobster might be able
to see much more clearly in the dimness of the ocean
than was believed possible. The idea of different eyes
having different sensitivity to light suggests that one set
of eyes could function in daylight, as they do, for a lob-
18 ABOUT LOBSTERS
ster in a tank is immediately aware of a hand approach- * *
Lobsters certainly shun light, as is evident in lobster
tanks where the lobsters will shrink away from light, and
huddle together in the darkest corner.
Experiments with lights for lobster lures have met with
little success, confirming the belief that lobsters shun even
the dimmest light.
Lobster eyes seem to be affected by agitation. One * *
lobster dealer whose statements are dependable has no-
ticed the color of a lobster's eyes during a storm. He
keeps his lobsters in crates in the water, and the crates
are naturally tossed around in a storm. At such times,
the eyes of the lobsters turn so ruby red that they are
Taste and smell. Lobsters have no taste or smell organs
in the usual meaning of the words, and it seems probable
that these two senses are blended together, and stimulated
either by touch or by a chemical reaction. The process is
not understood with any exactness. Nearly every part of a
lobster's body is subject to these stimulations. The stimula-
tion, whether of touch or chemical nature, is conveyed to
the lobster's nervous system by tiny hairs which cover most
of its body. They are its most important sense organs. Thus
it is that although encased in what seems a solid, impene-
trable armor, the lobster can receive stimuli and impres-
sions from without as readily as if it possessed a soft and
delicate skin. The dense shell of a lobster is in reality a veri-
table strainer, being perforated by hundreds of thousands
of minute passages which lead from the surface to the sen-
sory nerves that lie at the roots of the hairs. On the shorter
antennae these hairs are particularly evident, and the mouth
parts are more sensitive than the antennae.
The hairs on the feet of lobsters are sensitive and are
an aid to the lobster as it explores the bottom for food,
whipping the water with its long antennae, and testing all
8 See page 83.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 19
objects with them and its feet. Being dim-sighted the lob-
ster must necessarily sense holes or other unfavorable con-
ditions in the bottom with its feet, and the foot movement
is probably quite fumbling in its search for something solid
to bear its weight. 7
The lobster's hairs are tremendously responsive to even
very dilute evidences of food, and a lobster will react vigor-
ously to the trail left in the water by a finger which has been
in contact with meat.
Even more remarkable is a lobster's reaction to fish * *
oil spilled on the surface of a shallow ocean pool. There
its response can be seen. The lobster will move until
it is beneath this oil film and follow it even though the
oil is only on the surface and several feet above it.
Hearing. A lobster has no organ comparable to an
ear, and probably does not have a sense of hearing. It
does sense noise, not as sound but rather as vibrations.
Lobstermen in Cohasset agree that they cannot catch
lobsters following the explosions of Fourth of July fire-
works on nearby Nantasket Beach. Enormous lobsters
were caught in New York waters until Revolutionary
days. In Letters From America 1792, it says, " Since
the incessant cannonading lobsters have entirely for-
saken the coast; not one having been taken or seen
since the commencement of hostilities."
Touch. Touch is the most primitive sense of animals,
and in a lobster it is present in the hairs, which also act as
taste and smell organs. The antennae are particularly rich
in these hairs to record whatever they touch.
Balance. It is commonly observed that while living fish
swim with their bodies erect and poised, a dead one floats
on its side. The upright position is maintained in life by
compensating movements which are automatically called in-
to play by special sensory bodies called static organs. This
is true of lobsters, as of all animals which carry themselves
7 See page 46.
20 ABOUT LOBSTERS
upright in opposition to gravity. In a lobster, these organs
are pockets lined with sensitive hairs, many of which have
little weights in the form of tiny sand grains glued to their
tips. The grains swing about with the least movement of
the body and telegraph their position to the nervous system.
It is possible that the large antennae contribute to * *
the sense of balance. If both large antennae are cut off
and a lobster is balanced vertically on its head in a
tank, it will hold this position for several hours.
The molting of a lobster is a most interesting proce-
dure. The shed shell is often found, and the act itself has
sometimes been observed.
A lobster molts because its meat has grown but its in-
elastic shell has not. A freshly molted lobster will be an
inch or more longer than its cast shell.
Molting begins the second day after hatching and con-
tinues through the life of the lobster, or at least as long as
it is growing. The first three molts are passed in from
twelve to fifteen days. In mature lobsters, the male sheds
once a year, unless it is very old and slow-growing. A lob-
ster weighing ten pounds will shed perhaps every three or
four years. The female usually molts once in two years if she
is fertile, otherwise the same as a male. From first to last,
the shell is cast in one piece with only a split down the
back. In healthy young animals, molting lasts but a few
minutes, but the process is striking and at all times it is
critical and sometimes fatal.
Certain changes occur in the body of a lobster in prepa-
ration for the molt. Among these changes is the absorp-
tion into the body of the lobster of much of the lime in its
shell along a narrow line in the solid part extending from its
beak to the after end. The shell becomes brittle along this
line in preparation to splitting open. A most important
change is in the flesh of the lobster, which becomes stringy
and watery and unpalatable. The large claws shrink, due to
the fluid in the claws being withdrawn into other parts of
ABOUT LOBSTERS 21
the body, leaving the claws virtually free from blood. With-
out this withdrawal and consequent shrinkage, it would be
impossible for the claw to be withdrawn without rupture.
The layer of skin which is to form the new shell begins to
take on its distinctive character before the old one is cast,
but does not harden to any extent.
As molting approaches, the lobster becomes markedly
uneasy; the shell feels hollow, and the color of the joints
changes to deep red tints, clearly telling the experienced
lobsterman that the molt is imminent. This recognition is
important, as no customer wants to receive a rubbery, soft
lobster which may molt in transit (and very likely die).
F. H. Herrick states, in The Natural History of the
When the lobster is approaching the critical point
of shedding, the back shell gapes away a quarter of an
inch or more from the tail. Through the wide chink
thus formed, the flesh can be seen glistening, giving it a
decided pinkish tinge.
The lobster lies on its side and bends its body in
the shape of the letter V. Presently the old cuticle hold-
ing the two halves together begins to stretch, and slow
but sure pressure finally bursts the skin, revealing the
brilliant colors of the new shell.
When this stage has been reached, the lobster be-
comes quiet for a few seconds and then resumes its task
with renewed vigor. The doubled-up fore part of the
body, with each effort of the animal, is more and more
withdrawn from the old shell.
The solid part of its shell is unbroken, yet the two
halves of the shell bend as upon a hinge along a line
(from the beak to its after end) where the lime of the
shell has been absorbed. No part of the covering of
the large claws or of any of the legs has been split or
The solid part of the shell usually splits open as straight
and clean as though it had been cut with a knife.
Fig. 1. The empty, moulted shell
ABOUT LOBSTERS 23
The muscular masses of the powerful claws are
drawn through the small openings at the base of the
claw as a wire is pulled through the holes of a draw
plate. What this implies can be best appreciated when
it is realized that the cross section of the biggest part
of the big claw is more than four times greater than at
its narrowest point.
The newly molted lobster has a very sleek and
fresh appearance and its colors were never brighter or
more attractive. Try to take it up in the hand, after
some time has elapsed, and it feels as limp as wet paper,
and rubbery. Every part of the old shell down to micro-
scopic hair has been reproduced in the new one, but the
new shell is so soft that it can be cut with a fingernail.
The large claws are considerably distorted, as well as
some other parts, being compressed and drawn out to
an unnatural length. 8
In this condition, the newly molted lobster is lean and
miserable. It is helpless to protect itself, and is eagerly at-
tacked by cod and by hard-shelled lobsters. It is very likely
to be injured and will die if handled at all at this time.
It is interesting that the flesh of soft-shelled lobsters is
considered unpalatable, while the edible crab is most de-
lectable just after shedding, i.e., the soft-shelled crab.
Figure I shows a photograph of the cast-off shell of a
lobster. It is complete in all details, even the globular sur-
face of the eyeballs; only the split down the shell tells that
it has been shed.
The female lobster often has empty egg cases clinging
to her abdomen after they have hatched. Molting is the
only way she can get rid of these encumbrances.
Sex differences. The differences between a male and a
female lobster are difficult to see in lobsters viewed from
Francis H. Herrick, " The Natural History of the American Lobster," Bul-
letin of the Bureau of Fisheries, Document 747 (July 13, 1911)-
24 ABOUT LOBSTERS
above. It is only when the lobsters are turned on their backs
that their differences become evident.
In the male lobster the two swimmerets nearest the cara-
pace (the solid shell) are hard, sharp and bony, whereas in
the female the same swimmerets are soft and feathery. The
difference is clearly noticeable either by sight or feeling.
When the female is impregnated by the male, his semen is
deposited in a pocket in the underside of his mate's body.
This receptacle appears as a shield wedged between the
bases of the third pair of walking legs. Its function is to
hold the sperm until the eggs leave the body and are ready
Mating. The female is always impregnated by the male
while she is soft shelled, and often within a few hours after
molting. When the female is ready to accept her mate it is
believed she searches him out. Anderton in The Lobster
describes the process:
Two hours after molting, she was seen roaming
round the pond and frequently approaching the various
shelters, returning regularly and fearlessly to a shelter
containing a large male. On approaching the entrance
to this shelter the large claws were extended in a direct
line with the body and the antennae were thrust within
the shelter. After a few moments the beak of the male
appeared, the female meanwhile rapidly whipping her
antennae across the now projecting beak of the male,
which in turn showed increasing signs of excitement,
his antennae being whipped very rapidly over the fe-
male in the same manner. After an interval of perhaps
a minute the male gradually withdrew from his shelter,
the female at the same time turning over on her back to
receive him. The sexual act took place at once, occupy-
ing only a few seconds, the male retiring at once to its
own shelter and the female into another. The following
day both were observed to be living in one shelter, and
they continued to do so, on and off, for several weeks.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 25
The living together does not usually continue except
The male at mating is almost always hard shelled. The
sperm has great vitality and endures for months, and pos-
sibly years. Female lobsters of all sizes from 8 inches up-
ward have been found with hard shell, and even with newly
laid eggs, with their receptacles full of sperm.
The sperm remains in the female's body for at least
nine months, alive and vigorous until such time as she
spawns. To lay her eggs, the female turns on her back and
flexes her abdomen into a pocket. The eggs then flow from
her genital openings at the bases of the second pair of walk-
ing legs in a steady stream into the pocket, passing over
the sperm receptacle on the way. At this time the sperm
cells leave the receptacle and fertilize the eggs. In this trans-
Fig. 2. " Berried " or " seed " lobster
fer the eggs are attached to the mother's swimmerets by a
natural adhesive, to remain throughout the period of incu-
26 ABOUT LOBSTERS
For ten to eleven months the female, now called a
" berried lobster "—see Figure 2— constantly guards her eggs
against marauding fish and steadily moves her swimmerets
to aerate and clean the eggs.
A lobster lays from 3,000 eggs (for a 7-inch female) to
75,000 ( for an 18-inch female ) . Ten thousand eggs is about
average for 10-inch lobsters (1J4 pounds). The eggs re-
semble caviar and are about 1/16" diameter. Their color,
when freshly laid, is a dark green. As they grow old they
become lighter in color. This is most noticeable toward the
close of the period of development, when the phrase " old "
or " light " egg lobster is commonly used by fishermen to dis-
tinguish them from the " black " egg lobsters, which have
more recently spawned.
The stored yolk of the egg supplies the materials for
growth; the egg gradually enlarges in size until its mem-
brane bursts, hatching the young lobster. The mother's in-
stinct is mainly directed to protecting her eggs, and the
young disperse as soon as hatched, rising to the surface
where they remain into their fourth stage. It is interesting to
note that surface-swimming young lobsters seem to be at-
tracted often by light, a trait that is not evident after they
A lobster's food consists mainly of fish, alive or dead,
shellfish (clams and mussels), other lobsters and even the
skeletons of small lobsters. The bones of fish as well as bits
of clam shell are swallowed, and are necessary for building
a lobster's shell. In soft-shelled lobsters, the stomach may
be crammed with fragments of shell whose lime is needed to
harden the lobster's new shell.
Lobsters can probably catch fish alive, particularly such
fish as flounders and sculpin, which inhabit the bottom. Lob-
sters will eat any flesh if they are hungry, from sea-gull to
raw beef. They will even enter an unbaited trap, but it is
not known whether this is from curiosity, or in seeking a
darker retreat, or for some tiny hint of a by-gone bait.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 27
In general, lobstermen prefer an oily fish as bait, the
choice being between herring, mackerel, or redfish, the re-
mains of filleted redfish being often available. There are
some contradictions to the above statement, since sculpin is
considered good bait, yet is not particularly oily. Crabs are
used when fish bait is not available, but their shells must be
crushed so as to spread the taste and odor of their flesh
through the water. They are fair bait but by no means
Herrick says, " Clams are undoubtedly a favored food
as evidenced by the holes dug in the bottom by lobsters in
a pound, and by the open broken clam shells abounding."
Lobsters are scavengers, meaning that they will clean
up food on the ocean floor, and sometimes their food is too
ripe for human taste. Anyone who doubts this has only to
examine and smell a barrel of salted herring which has been
put down during the summer as a reserve for later fishing,
when bait is scarce. It is good bait but not as good as fresh
herring. Even so-called fresh bait becomes quite ripe during
the several days in summer that it takes to use up a barrel.
But lobsters will not touch putrid food. Lobstermen agree
that fresh bait fishes best, and they would use it wholly if
they could get it, but some think there are times when the
riper bait is actually better. They know that lobsters are
more fastidious than crabs, which will eat anything even if
it is rotten.
Lobstermen do not like the stink of rotten fish any more
than anyone else. One lobsterman reported that his wife
would not let him sleep with her because he still smelled so
badly of fish, even after taking a bath. A further objection
is that a decayed fish becomes soft so as to be easily washed
or torn off the bait hook. Fish heads are a desired bait be-
cause they " hang on " and are not readily torn away.
Since oily fish are a preferred bait, it would seem that
the fish oil must be the attractant. Experiments with Lob-
Lure, an artificial bait, led to the conclusion that the bene-
fit of oil in a fish bait was because the oil waterproofed the
28 ABOUT LOBSTERS
fish flesh, causing it to " hang on " and fish longer, rather
than because the oil was so attractive.
There is no evidence that shorts prefer a different bait
than do larger lobsters. This statement is based on the
records of LobLure, which listed the number of each size
caught with each bait.
Any bait that is too decayed becomes " sour " and * *
will not fish at all. Similarly, a netted bait bag will be-
come " sour " after several fishings, and must be scrub-
bed out and sunned. It will not fish even if loaded with
Most lobstermen believe that a storm will affect a
a lobster's feeding habits. They note that even during
summer lobsters' appetites seem to fail at times, but
that after a storm they will again come into pots. It is
thought that the agitation of storm waves shakes them
out of their lethargy.
Lobsters need a change in diet. When fishing is poor,
a change in the kind of bait will often correct the trouble.
A moderate amount of salt in any bait does not affect
Fish heads are good bait. And most of the blood of a
fish is in its head. Is this significant?
Lobsters need lime from which to build their shells.
It is reported by Herrick that a newly molted lobster will
eat its own cast, or gorge on shell fragments to replenish
this lime. Phosphorus exists in large quantities in lobsters.
In hot weather, when a dead lobster ceases to be fresh, it
exhibits a highly phosphorescent appearance similar to that
of a glowworm. It is probably caused by the chemical
changes in the lobster flesh and is a slow combustion by oxy-
gen. Goode reports (Fisheries and Fishing Industries of the
United States): " The presence of phosphorus in a lobster
is of great importance to the consumers of these sea lux-
uries; there is no substance which conveys phosphorus so
readily into the human system in an agreeable form, and
which the system so readily and quickly assimilates, as the
flesh of lobsters."
ABOUT LOBSTERS 29
Herrick lists man as the principal enemy of lobsters.
He states that codfish come next, and the stomachs of cod
are often stuffed with young lobsters. Raccoons can be a
nuisance, and pounds near woods, as at Steuben, Maine,
are pestered by coons which come down to the shore at low
tide to scoop up lobsters. The woods around such pounds
are littered with their shells. Poundkeepers keep a rifle
handy, and manage to kill a dozen or more coons each year.
Red Tail. During the summer of 1946, an unknown
disease became epidemic in many lobster storage pounds
along the Maine coast and caused a high mortality among
lobsters stored there. The Sea and Shore Fisheries and
Maine Agricultural Experiment Station joined forces to in-
vestigate the disease. 9
At the beginning of the investigation, it was believed
that this disease of lobsters could be recognized by a creamy
pink to red coloration of the underside of the abdomen, thus
the name " Red Tail." Later, it was discovered that this red
coloration could not be relied upon as a symptom, but since
the term Red Tail had- become so widely known to designate
this disease, no attempt was made to change it.
Only a microscopic indication will prove that the dis-
ease is present in lobsters. It shows up in the sharp, pro-
gressive increase in weak and dead lobsters among those
stored in pounds, cars, and tanks, especially after the tem-
perature of the water has reached 45° F. or higher. The dis-
ease was found to be non-poisonous to human beings and
other warm-blooded creatures, but highly contagious among
This study further showed that while the lobster is its
natural host, the disease organism can live and multiply
outside the lobster tissue in the slime of lobster tanks, cars,
crates, bait barrels, and smack wells; it is also found in the
mud of tidal pounds and abounds in the sea water of tanks,
"See John S. Getchell, "A Study of Red Tail," Maine Department of Sea
and Shore Fisheries.
30 ABOUT LOBSTERS
cars, and tidal pounds where the infection is known to be
present. With the constant discharge of water from infected
storage places into open water, the organism has been traced
for miles until the dilution by the sea itself makes detection
From transmission studies, it has been found that
healthy lobsters that have devoured infected, weak, or dead
lobsters, and even those that did not have access to diseased
tissue but lived in the sea water contaminated with the
organism, fell victim to the disease.
Since to eliminate the disease is to remove the Red-
Tail organism, and since there is no known cure for the dis-
ease once the lobster has become infected, the next best
procedure is to attempt to remove the breeding places of the
organism and to keep healthy lobsters as far as possible from
becoming exposed to the disease. To even attempt this,
strict sanitation of all lobster storage places must be main-
The true host, the lobster, must be present for the dis-
ease to last over a period of time. This is shown by the fact
that in the absence of lobster tissue and with continuous
flushing by fresh sea water, the organism slowly disappears.
It is, therefore, most important that dead lobsters and lob-
ster parts be constantly removed from storage places and
destroyed. They should never be disposed of where they
may cause a contamination of either artificial or natural
habitats of lobsters. Weak lobsters should be considered
suspect, especially after the water temperature has reached
45° F., and either be isolated and observed in separate tanks
or cars, or disposed of.
To insure minimum loss, it is recommended that tidal
pounds should not be stocked during warm weather but at
a time when the temperature of the water is 45° F. or below.
If, however, tidal pounds must be stocked, the general rule
applies. Remove as completely as possible every day, and
destroy by burning or burying, all dead lobsters and lobster
See Pounds, page 1 1
ABOUT LOBSTERS 31
parts. Never throw this refuse where it may find its way
back into the pound. Never throw it into the ocean, for the
organism can be brought back into the pound by the tide
or can serve to infect lobsters yet uncaught.
When mortality is on the increase, the remaining
healthy lobsters should be removed and either stored in
fresh, clean cars, well away from the pound and in well
circulating water, or disposed of on the market. Once the
pound is empty, the gates should be left open so that it can
be flushed by the natural rise and fall of the tide. This
operation should continue for at least a week before any at-
tempt be made to restock. Storage tanks, cars, crates, and
bait barrels can be cleaned and disinfected with a hypo-
chlorite solution. They must then be well flushed, as chlorine
is poisonous to lobsters.
Shell disease. Shell disease in lobsters is caused by a
bacterium that attacks the horny part of the shell. The dis-
ease appears to attack all parts of the exterior shell, but ap-
parently does not attack the antennae, the mouth parts, the
eyes, or the thin membrane between the various body seg-
In advanced stages, the disease is easily recognized by
the characteristic eroded appearance of the shell. Large
areas of the shell of the tail and carapace may be completely
eaten away, exposing the soft inner layer (see Figure 3).
The outer edges of the injured parts are characteristically
white in appearance and it is in this white area that the
bacteria are active.
It is probable that in the early stages of the disease the
bacteria lodge in the minute pores of the shell. During the
incubation period of the disease, an infected lobster cannot
be distinguished from a healthy one. The first evidences of
infection are tiny, pinpoint damaged spots ( lesions ) . These
injuries are especially difficult to recognize on the walking
legs, where they frequently first appear.
See Clyde C. Taylor, " A Study of Lobster Shell Disease with Observations
arid Recommendations," Maine Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries
Fig. 3. Shell disease
Reproduced from Sea and Shore Fisheries bulletin
Lobster Shell Disease."
A Study of
ABOUT LOBSTERS 33
The disease develops rather slowly, at least three
months being required for it to reach advanced stages. Ob-
servations on lobsters held at the Boothbay Harbor station
indicate that the disease is relatively dormant at tempera-
tures below 35°F., but becomes increasingly active as the
water temperature approaches and exceeds 40° F.
Observations up to the present indicate that the disease
is spread only through physical contact with diseased lob-
sters, but experiments are now in progress to determine if it
may be carried by water. Horn-decomposing bacteria are
known to be widely distributed in nature, and it is possible
that the disease may be spread through contact with the
mud of infected pounds.
It has been shown that lobsters free from previous con-
tact with the disease will develop it when held in tanks with
diseased lobsters. In one experiment, 36 per cent of the
healthy lobsters put in tanks with diseased lobsters de-
veloped visible lesions in forty days. A mortality of 71 per
cent has been observed among diseased lobsters held in
tanks for a period of eighty-eight days.
The bacteria in shell disease attack only the external
parts of the lobster and exhaust their food supply before
ever reaching edible flesh. Although lobsters in the ad-
vanced stages of the disease are very unsightly, it has never
been reported that the presence of the disease in a shipment
impairs the value or marketability of the lobsters.
In order to prevent the spread of shell disease to native
lobsters, dealers who handle imported lobsters must be very
careful to avoid dumping dead lobsters or parts of dead lob-
sters from an infected lot into the ocean where native lob-
sters can come in contact with them. Since it is customary
to dispose of dead lobsters by dumping them in the sea,
great care must be taken to see that every person handling
an infected lot is clearly instructed.
The recommended means of disposing of lobsters with
shell disease is to burn them. This is readily accomplished
if a coal fire is available. When burning is impractical, boil-
ing for thirty minutes and dumping on a garbage dump is a
34 ABOUT LOBSTERS
safe procedure. In one instance, an abandoned, water-filled
quarry has proved an effective and inexpensive means of dis-
We have no record of shell disease developing in a
pound containing only Maine lobsters. In every reported
case, the disease has been associated with the presence of
imported lobsters. This fact is of great significance since it
indicates there is no continuity of infection in a pound. The
absence of continuity of infection may be interpreted to
mean that contamination in the pound disappears during
the spring and summer months when the pound is empty
and that the disease organism requires a living host.
Although shell disease has been known in Canadian
waters since 1936 and in Maine pounds since 1942, there is
no evidence that the disease is present in Maine waters ex-
cept for a few diseased specimens widely scattered both in
space and time. It appears probable that the disease is not
water-borne. The presence of the disease in adjacent Ca-
nadian waters and its apparent absence in Maine waters is a
surprising fact, however, and we would be most unwise to
conclude that the, disease is unlikely to break out in our na-
tive stocks. We must consider ourselves fortunate up to the
present time and exercise every known precaution to pre-
vent its introduction.
Plug rot. This is a decay and blackening of the claw
meat adjacent to the plug. It may proceed so that the shell
is decayed away for an area as large as a quarter, exposing
a marble-sized section of black, dead meat.
This infection is rare and appears in lobsters which
have been held some time.
Plug rot must be blamed on the plug. It is not evident
why it appears so infrequently, or what there may be in the
way the plug is inserted to make the infection so virulent.
The Sea and Shore Fisheries report that plug rot oc-
curs equally with either wood or plastic plugs, but is most
noticeable with the hand- whittled Canadian plugs. These
often have a curved shape so that their points fetch up
ABOUT LOBSTERS 35
against the inside of the claw shell, and can possibly chafe
Gas disease. Gas disease is covered in detail in a paper
" The Gas Disease in Lobsters," by Donald M. Harriman, of
Sea and Shore Fisheries, who writes:
" Gas disease is caused by super-saturation of air in
water. This in turn results in super-saturation of dissolved
nitrogen, which is injurious to lobsters." It occurs when a
water pump is working against high pressure and there is
an air leak on the vacuum side of the pump, usually
through the packing. Thus air as well as the water is sucked
into the pump.
Gas disease, when acute, will kill lobsters in a matter
of hours; when it is not acute, in from two days to two
Gill disease. The gills of lobsters are sometimes in-
fected with parasites (primarily a British disease). This
organism can be seen, when the gill cover is removed, as
pinkish, egglike protrusions, up to 1/5" long, from the gill
filaments to which the organism is firmly attached. When
present in small numbers, the parasite has no noticeable
effect on the lobster, but may, in the case of heavy infesta-
tion ( several hundred on each side ) , weaken the lobster. As
the organism remains attached to the gills throughout its
adult life, and the eggs which are produced cannot, so far as
is known, lead to a direct reinfection of lobsters, the parasite
cannot be regarded as a potential source of an epidemic
amongst stored lobsters.
Bowel movement. The dung of a lobster will kill * *
other lobsters. That is one reason why lobsters are
commonly kept in a tank before shipping out. Thus
the bowels can be emptied, and there will be little dung
to sift down in a shipping barrel to kill the lobsters in
the lower layers.
36 ABOUT LOBSTERS
Sea fleas are very much of a nuisance to lobstermen.
They can completely eat the bait in a pot in an hour. They
are particularly active and numerous during one month in
LobLure tried to eliminate fleas by lining their cylindri-
cal wire bait container with a fine plastic screening. This
would effectively keep out mature fleas, but the tiny young
ones could squeeze in, gorge themselves on bait and be so
swollen they could not get out. Frequently, a heaping table-
spoon of such fleas would be found inside, and no bait.
The refuse (heads, guts, and skin) of smoked**
herring is commonly believed to be repellent to fleas. It
has the pleasant odor of smoked herring, keeps indef-
initely, and is cheap. It can be obtained in Eastport.
One elderly lobsterman used it alone as a bait, and
claimed it fished as well as brim. He first cooked it up
with water and used it in a bait bag. Actual tests
showed it to be an inferior bait. It is not known if
lobstermen ever mix smoked herring scrap with their
regular bait in order to repel sea fleas. It might be
Measuring a Lobster
In all New England States today a lobster is measured
by a metal gauge which hooks into the eye-socket at one
end, and over the edge of the carapace (the solid part of
his shell ) at the other end ( see Figure 4 ) .
In Maine and in Massachusetts the legal length for a
lobster is 3 3/16 inches.
Maine has also an oversize limit: a lobster which is
over 5 inches may not be taken. The idea behind this over-
size limit is the belief that the larger lobster will produce
more eggs, and thus aid in conservation. This idea is hotly
refuted by some lobstermen who claim that the intermediate
size lobsters are the greatest breeders due to their greater
virility, and they point to many examples in animal life
where younger ones are more sexually active. Maine is the
only state with this oversize limit.
Mr. Robert L. Dow, Research Director of Sea and Shore
Fisheries, points out that it is not true with marine forms
Fig. 4. Measuring a lobster
that more progeny means more adults. " The maximum size
limit in Maine was established because the larger sizes
would not sell well in the live lobster market, and it was a
convincing but spurious argument to offer ' conservation ' as
justification for legally excluding these less salable sizes
from the catch. This limitation is anti-conservation in that
these protected animals [those in excess of 5" carapace] are
not efficient in their use of food which we assume to be of
limited capacity, but they are also cannibalistic, and occupy
space which might be better used by smaller, more efficient
Means of Catching
Early practices. The primitive method of catching lob-
sters was by means of a hooked staff resembling a shep-
herd's crook. This was thrust into the lobster's hiding place
exposed at low tide, and the lobster withdrawn by the hook.
For many years on the coast of Norway, lobsters were taken
with wooden tongs about twelve feet long and adapted for
use in shallow water. All the catch taken by such means
were more or less severely injured in the taking, and were
unfit for transportation.
The gaffing of lobsters from small boats was a common
practice in the early history of the American fishery, and in
the period of plenty from 1850 to 1860, a fisherman could
take 150 lobsters in a single morning. These devices were
followed by the hoop net which consisted of a circular iron
ring four feet in diameter, across
which netting was loosely
stretched to form a bag net (see
Figure 5). Bait was secured at
the center of the net and four
ropes secured around the cir-
cumference leading into a single
rope for hauling the trap. These
nets were hauled every fifteen
minutes, so apparently the lob-
sterman had only a few of them,
and rowed around tending each
frequently. It is an interesting
commentary on the plentifulness
of lobsters that hoop nets could
be effective. The majority of
lobsters attracted to the bait
would remain on the net during
Fig. 5. Hoop net the short periods between haul-
ings. Hoop nets were the common trap up to the time of the
ABOUT LOBSTERS 39
development of the lobster pot. They are still used in British
lobster pounds to fish out the impounded lobsters.
In dense lobster population the hoop net is said to be
more efficient than the pot.
The American pot. Although all American pots func-
tion the same way, yet it is another piece of lobstermen's
gear about which many disagree. Some of the variations in
1. The half-round pot, the earliest style, using
black alder bent bows. Modern pots of this style use
steam-bent oak bows. It withstands rough handling
better than the square pot.
2. The square pot, which is easier to make, and
stacks better in the cockpit of a boat.
3. Parlor pots, which doubly trap a lobster. One
less knitted head is necessary in non-parlor pots. Most
American pots today are parlor ones.
4. Two side entrance openings versus one open-
ing. Here again is a saving of one knitted head. The
one-opening pot would seem to be less efficient, for the
single opening can be blocked by kelp. Yet some able
lobstermen claim they catch just as many lobsters with a
single entrance pot.
5. In a few harbors, pots can be found which
have two entrances at either end rather than the sides.
They do not have parlors. Such pots have to be un-
usually long. Otherwise, a lobster can reach through
the head ring ( without actually passing through it ) and
get at the bait.
Parlor Pots are undoubtedly the most effective type.
They do retain more of the trapped lobsters, but they by
no means hold 100 per cent of the lobsters caught. To prove
this, any lobsterman can put five lobsters in the parlor,
leave the pot down overnight, with no bait, and there will
be less than five lobsters in the pot the following morning.
Some of them will have escaped.
Lobsters seem to be repelled by the acid in new * *
oak pots. Freshly made pots do not fish well the first
ABOUT LOBSTERS 41
few days, and all new oak pots are soaked underwater * *
for several days. This undoubtedly waterlogs the pots
and makes them heavier, but it is probable that much
of the acid in the oak is thus leached out.
Heads. One of the few pieces of trapping gear that
lobstermen universally agree upon is the use of nylon for
the netting of the heads. Only a few years ago, heads were
made of marline or other tarred twine. But after World
War II, there were quantities of surplus nylon parachute
cord which sold at a fraction of their cost. Someone tried
nylon out as a header twine, and its strength and durability
brought it into general acceptance. There can be quite a
difference in nylon cord; some can be bothersome by kink-
ing, and all of it should have the cut ends sealed off with
heat, since nylon unlays readily, and does not hold a knot.
The braided nylon is used mostly for bait bags. Nylon has
been braided over string, plastic filaments, and glass cord
in an effort to reduce the cost of the twine. None of the ex-
periments was successful, either because its life was too
short or the twine was stiffened so as to make knitting more
Nylon header twine is made in two weights, and two
colors, white or green, and it is amusing to hear how em-
phatically each lobsterman will defend the greater effi-
ciency of the color he prefers.
In some parts, such as at Martha's Vineyard, the funnels
for the heads are made of wood laths. They afford better
footing for a lobster than nylon netting, and also can more
easily be fitted with a non-escape device, such as a hinged
wire across the opening of the parlor head. 1
Netted heads must be mounted taut or the pot will not
fish. This is probably because a taut head furnishes a more
rigid footing for the lobster. (An acrobat who is a slack-
rope walker has to be more skillful than a tight-rope
A lobster pot is an excellent example of Yankee inge-
1 See page 47.
42 ABOUT LOBSTERS
nuity. It is a simple, practical machine which works; and it
uses materials available in out-of-the-way sections of the
country. However, except for the development of the parlor
pot and the use of nylon header twine, there has been no
big improvement in lobster pots for over one hundred years.
Where a mechanism has been so long without any great im-
provements, it seems highly probable that it is open to re-
In the old days, lobstermen had to use the materials
right at hand, but today with so many new materials avail-
able, and with modern transportation permitting these ma-
terials to reach the farthest corners, it is time to reconsider
lobster pot design.
Criticis7n of design. There are several objections to the
modern lobster pot.
First, it is too heavy for easy handling when out of
water, yet not heavy enough to anchor it securely to the
ocean floor when submerged. Because the pot is 99 per cent
wood, it is buoyant, and most of the ballast in a pot func-
tions to overcome this buoyancy rather than to hold the pot
down on the ocean floor. A pot which weighs 44 pounds out
of water weighs only 8 pounds submerged. Yet it is a 44-
pound lift when the pot is finally hauled out of the water
and into the boat. In other words, 36 pounds of the weight
of a pot is lost as far as acting as an anchor.
Any redesign of a pot which would eliminate this use-
less buoyancy would make the job of lobstering much easier.
The obvious correction of this fault is to reduce the wood
used in a pot. Note the British pot described below. 2 In-
stead of wood slats, the frame is covered with nylon netting.
This, of course, reduces its buoyancy. A pot constructed of
metal would also solve this problem, but many lobstermen
believe that a metal pot will not catch lobsters. Experiments
with metal pots have been made by using galvanized chick-
en wire in place of slats. Such pots will catch crabs, but
seem to repel lobsters.
2 See page 45.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 43
This might be because of chemical action of sea * *
water on the zinc used in galvanizing, producing an of-
fensive chemical. Or it might be that ocean currents
can vibrate the wire in such a way as to scare the lob-
sters. The experimental traps described on page 44
have stiff metal screening, and they are reported to fish
well. However, stainless steel would seem to overcome
this objection, and even with galvanized metals the sur-
face can be coated with a plastic skin, which would
eliminate the action of sea water on zinc. 3
The minute a practical pot made of metal is designed,
most of the lost weight from the buoyancy of wood will be
eliminated, and the weight of the metal in the pot will take
the place of much of the present ballast.
Remember that it is the weight per square foot of a pot
underwater which determines how well it hugs the ocean
floor. Thus, if the base of the present pot had half of its
area, the pressure per square foot on the ocean floor would
A second criticism of lobster pots in use is that the loss
of pots each year is amazing and averages close to 33 per
cent. This is much too high a loss, and any design which
would cut this percentage would not only make lobstering
more profitable, but would permit a lobsterman to fish
longer at each end of the season, when the heavy storms and
loss of pots now make lobstering unprofitable.
To understand why pots are lost, it is necessary to con-
jecture what happens during a storm. In the first place, it
will be recalled by any student of high school physics that
the action of waves in a bad storm is a circular action reach-
ing to 60 feet in depth. Since this is a common depth for
lobster fishing in summer months, most pots are affected by
During a storm, it is probable that kelp is pressed * *
against the side of a pot, closing the openings between
the slats and affording a considerable resistance to the
3 See page 102.
44 ABOUT LOBSTERS
waves. On top of this, the light weight of a submerged* *
pot (only 8 pounds) does not afford much grip to the
ocean floor. It is probable that a pot is rolled over and
over, perhaps winding the warp around itself, until the
buoy is drawn under, but in any case permitting the pot
to be slammed against the ledges and broken. Notice
here that the round tops of many pots tend to assist this
rolling action rather than to oppose it.
The following changes in the shape of a pot will help to
reduce these losses:
a. Any reduction in the height of a pot from the
present 18 inches would reduce the leverage tending to
overturn a pot.
b. The construction of a pot with inclined sides
like a pyramid would change the side pressure of a
wave from an overturning effect into a force pressing
the pot down on the ocean floor.
This downward pressure exerted on an inclined surface
is akin to the side pressure exerted by a wedge. As anyone
can recall, the pressure of a wedge in splitting a log is at
right angles to the direction in which the wedge is being
driven. The flatter the angle of such a pot, the greater it
will be forced down against the ocean floor. A 45-degree
angle will turn half the side pressure of a wave into a down-
ward force, and an even flatter wedge will turn more of the
pressure downward. Such a design would utilize the force
of ocean currents to anchor a pot rather than to roll it over.
The steel pot. The steel pot is being fished experi-
mentally off Portland. It is a parlor, two-side-entrance pot
whose sides and bottom are covered with expanded steel,
rather than wood slats. The sides slant upwards like the
roof of a house. Expanded steel is the material commonly
used today as the foundation for plastering instead of lath-
ing. It has diamond-shaped openings. The cut edges of the
steel are quite sharp on one side but not on the other. It
was found that lobsters would not enter the pot if the side
ABOUT LOBSTERS 45
of the expanded metal with the sharp edges was placed * *
outside. This illustrates the sensitivity of lobsters' feet
since lobsters will commonly crawl over the outside of
any pot before entering. Evidently, the sharp edges
were repellent. This pot is reported to be as effective
as old-style wood pots. Its cost is not known, but its
durability must be far greater than those made of wood.
These pots were originally made with metal net-
ting for heads. It is interesting that they would fish well
in 15 fathoms or deeper, but not in shallower water.
When the heads were replaced by nylon netting, they
would fish at all depths. A deduction from this is that
wave action made the wire head vibrate at shallow
depths, where the wave action is felt, and that such vi-
bration was repellent to lobsters. This conclusion has
been given as a reason why chicken-netting pots (in-
stead of slats ) do not fish well.
The plastic pot. Plastic pots have been made in Mar-
blehead, but it is probable that their manufacture has been
discontinued, since a request to buy one was not answered.
The one seen in York was very crude; the components were
not made in a die but hand molded. The plastic pot might
be very practical on account of its strength, durability, and
resistance to teredos but the gamble of the cost of dies to
make them would be great. If a manufacturer could only be
sure his design was right, he might risk the gamble, but he
would still have to face the uncertainty of enough lobster-
men accepting it. The individual thinking among lobster-
men often handicaps the development of new gear for them.
The British or Scotch pot. This pot is quite similar to
our two-side-entrance half-round pot, but without an inner
bedroom. It differs in that the side slats are replaced by a
nylon netting of about the same opening as we use in our
heads. This reduces its buoyancy. It lacks the opening be-
tween the lower slats to permit small lobsters to escape (see
Figure 7). Its greatest difference is in the use of a fine mesh
netting on the floor of the head as a sort of catwalk. The
46 ABOUT LOBSTERS
Fig. 7. Lobster creel — side view
British have discovered that a lobster will more readily enter
a creel (their name for a pot) if his footing is made easier.
It sounds reasonable. Anyone who has watched a dog chase
a squirrel into a brush pile and climb up the brush pile in
pursuit will be struck by the dog's difficulty in finding a
footing— the holes between the branches hamper his locating
places to plant his feet. How much harder it must be for a
lobster with its dim sight to fumble around in the dark
searching for a strand of the header to support him. It is a
discovery which our lobstermen should investigate.
Dr. H. Thomas of the Scottish Marine Laboratory in his
pamphlet, " The Efficiency of Fishing Methods Employed in
the Capture of Lobsters," lists the comparative catches of
their standard pot as compared with the same pot equipped
with a fine meshed catwalk on top of the head. In nineteen
test fishings, the standard pot caught an average of 2.7 lob-
sters, while the catwalk pot caught an average of 3.9 lob-
sters. This is a 44 per cent greater catch, and the average
size of the lobsters in the latter type pot was slightly greater.
The actual figures are shown below.
The catwalk material is cord knitted with openings
about 5/16" square, and is apparently laced down to the
ABOUT LOBSTERS 47
The three types of creels tested are described herewith :
1. The standard pot— a half-round pot with heads at
either end and no parlor. This is like the one in Figure 7,
but without the fine mesh catwalk.
2. The standard pot fitted with a non-escape device on
each head. The device consists of a hinged, freely movable
fl shaped, galvanized iron wire which at rest lies across the
opening of the head. It offers little resistance to entry of
the pot, but prevents escape through the head. Such a one-
way-passage trap has been used by some American lobster-
men but has not come into general use. Possibly the tap-
ping noise made when the hanging tongue butts against the
ring of the header may scare lobsters away.
3. The standard pot fitted with a fine mesh catwalk
lying on the head, as shown in Figure 7. " Twelve of each
of these types were used in each fishing in depths down to
15 fathoms. They were fished in trawls of eight pots, care
being taken to drop them at the same depth as nearly as
possible. The period of fishing being twenty-four hours.
The following table shows the catches of lobsters by the
three types of pots in each of nineteen fishing."
Catch of lobsters by creel types per fishing
12345678 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 Average
Standard 120632430 2242 3 5 2443 2.7
catwalk 41154764222332 10 167 5 3.9
escape 3143323512420444636 3.2
The average catch per fishing by the pot with the
fine-mesh catwalk is well above the others. Over 20 per
cent better than the non-escape pot, and nearly 40 per
cent better than the Standard pot.
A weighted estimate of the overall average length
of lobsters is given in respect of each type of pot. The
fine-mesh catwalk pot caught slightly larger lobsters.
Fig. 8. The Leakey "inhibitor
Fig. 9. The Cornish pot
ABOUT LOBSTERS 49
average lengths in mm.
caught by creel types
Standard Fine-mesh catwalk Non-escape
Summary. Of the three pot types investigated
those fitted with fine-mesh (5/16") netting onto the
lower face of the head inlet caught more lobsters than
did pots not so fitted. 4
The above tests explain why the sample pot in the bul-
letin on " Practical Hints for Lobster Fishermen," from the
Scottish Home Department shows only a pot equipped with
the fine-mesh catwalk as in Figure 7.
The Leakey pot. One of these pots has been imported
from England. It is a metal-framed collapsible trap. It is
reported that fifteen hundred are in use in Britain. Its bot-
tom and sides are made of nylon netting, and it is held in
position of use by a nylon cord which may be readily re-
leased or broken by storm damage, allowing the pot to col-
lapse. The hinged door at one end allows the removal of
lobsters. It does not have a door in the side to reach the
bait hook, and it is not clear how the bait is to be secured.
The frame is 3/8" steel rod covered with a protective
The most interesting feature of the Leakey pot is what
they call the " escape inhibitor." This is a fine-mesh plastic
floor netting such as used on the Scotch pot, but it is stiff
and springy, and it extends beyond the opening of the head
about 3 inches into the pot, as at X in Figure 8. The in-
ventors state: " The plastic floor extends past the end of the
head netting in the form of a row of bristles over which the
lobster passes on its way in. If it tries to escape, the bristles
not only prod it back but any pressure on them closes the
head." It is claimed that Leakey traps can be fished for long
periods between hauls without the catch escaping.
4 H. J. Thomas, " The Efficiency of Fishing Methods Employed in the Cap-
ture of Lobsters and Crabs," International Council for the Exploration of
the Sea, Charlottenlund, Denmark.
50 ABOUT LOBSTERS
The Leakey pot is reported to be patent pending in the
The Cornish pot. Cornish pots ( Figure 9 ) are sim-
ilar in shape to the old-fashioned straw beehive. They
are built of wicker work, usually from hazel or willow.
The flat base is circular of close basket work, of di-
ameter 2'3". The sides are formed from wands which
are brought upwards and then inwards, and finally
bound downwards centrally to form an eye at the top of
the pot; the height of the pot is 1'8" and the depth of
the eye 7", its diameter 8". Wands forming the sides of
the pot are at a separation of \y 2 " and bound together
by a spiral of willow twigs, which generally circle the
pot twice in passing from the base to the eye. The eye
itself is closely bound by twigs to form a funnel lead-
ing into the top of the pot.
Bait is secured in the pot by means of skewers,
made of wood and 15" in length. The bait is fixed to
the skewer which is then passed through the mouth of
the pot and the point of the skewer is inserted in the
close basket work of the funnel, so that the point of the
skewer projects downwards and inwards to the centre
of the funnel. Generally three such baited skewers are
used. The points of the three skewers converge to the
centre point of the funnel; sometimes four or even five
skewers may be used. Fishermen hold that, providing
the closed fist can be thrust into the space between the
skewers, ample room is left for the lobster to enter the
pot. The skewers not only secure the bait but prevent
lobsters escaping from the pot, particularly during
The following advantages are claimed for the
1. They are inexpensive. Hazel or willow
wands can usually be collected locally, free.
2. The pots are durable; they withstand sea
water and can be walked on when piled in a boat.
The Cornish Pot is used on the English coast from
Hampshire around the south and west coasts to Cum-
berland. They vary considerably from area to area in
their dimensions, and in the size of the eye. The di-
mensions given above refer to the type of pot used in
North Cornwall. 5
The French pot. This is a barrel-shaped pot (Figure
10) constructed of chestnut wood, and is used by many
French fishermen, especially for the capture of the spiny
lobster. Again, the local abundance and cheapness of the
material is the principal deciding factor; also the spiny lob-
ster, like the crab, is held to be very destructive to twine.
Fig. 10. The French pot
Unlike other traps, the French pot rests on a rounded
surface. It is barrel-shaped and weighted to lie on its side.
This, it is claimed, lessens the risk of the trap becoming fast
between rocks, particularly in areas of ground swell; thus
relatively few are lost.
The Dutch pot. It has been stated that lobsters and
crabs are repelled by metal. Nevertheless, the Dutch fisher-
5 H. J. Thomas, Ibid.
Fig. 11. The Dutch pot
men use a pot (Figure 11)
made of galvanized iron wire
on a framework of metal, and
this seems to fish successfully.
The Orkney fishermen do not
appear to be at any disadvan-
tage from the use of iron hoops
and from the galvanized wire
used to form the ring of the
eye and eye-shutter.
Care of Pots
Marine borers. The in-
roads of marine borers are a
serious problem to lobstermen,
for it is possible that the wood in a pot may be eaten away in
less than one season. It is a curse of increasing importance,
and would indicate that these borers are moving into north-
A fisherman of Frenchboro (where the ravages were
particularly bad ) " found that new traps set off in February
1950 were completely riddled by the last of April."
The actual damage to the lobster pot laths appeared to
vary. In all probability, this variation was caused by the
length of time that the traps had been used. In the tested
traps the laths were so completely riddled that only a thin
shell of wood fiber held them together. It was impossible to
pick up the trap by means of the laths. Squeezing the laths
in one's hand produced much the same effect as squeezing
a water-soaked sponge.
Although Long Island fishermen were using spruce
laths with oak runners, some of them reported that oak did
not seem to be any more resistant to the borer than did
spruce. It was observed that the oak runners were badly
riddled, although perhaps due to their greater volume, they
were still in more serviceable condition than were the spruce
ABOUT LOBSTERS 53
laths. Experimental traps fished in the Stonington area in
1951 confirmed this observation.
In closely related species, it has been shown that no one
of the following: water, temperature, salinity, hydrogen ion
content, dissolved oxygen, pollution, and turbidity, is the de-
termining factor in increasing borer population with its con-
sequent increased timber destruction. It has been suggested
that a favorable combination of some or all of these factors
is what determines an increase in borer population and
Some information is available now on the borer from
investigations made elsewhere as well as observations made
by the Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries in Maine. It
appears that the borer, at the end of its early swimming
stages, attaches itself by means of its threadlike filaments to
wood. The spawning activity of these organisms is greatest
during cold weather, though spawning seems to be influ-
enced by age, and some young are in the water during all
seasons of the year. As the borer's shell forms, it works its
way beneath the wood surface, where it establishes its pro-
tective burrow. Once the borer has established itself within
the burrow, it grows rapidly and enlarges its home by rasp-
ing away the wood with the hind end of its shell. It may
seem surprising that a mollusk as relatively large as a mature
borer could have gained entrance to its burrow through a
hole as small as that appearing on the wood surface.
Whether or not the borer gains any nourishment from
the wood is not entirely clear. Closely related species some
years ago were believed to depend entirely on siphonable
water-borne food for their nourishment, but more recent
studies indicate the likelihood that a portion of their food is
derived from the wood they grind up in establishing and en-
larging their burrows.
Preservatives. A survey of the literature concerning
prevention of damage to lobster pots by marine borers led
to three possible methods of attack; namely, the sheathing
54 ABOUT LOBSTERS
of all wood with metal, the use of various paints or preserva-
tives known or felt to be repulsive or poisonous to borers,
and finally, the construction of traps with metals or plastics
not subject to borer attack. The first of these possible meth-
ods was deemed impractical and the third is still in the ex-
perimental stage, though with some degree of reasonable re-
sults. Therefore, this section deals only with the various
wood preservatives readily available or easily compounded.
Experimental fishing with treated traps was first com-
menced on August 11, 1950, and terminated on September
24, 1951. During the period a total of 6,869 lobsters was
caught. Two thousand, nine hundred and fifty-nine, or 43.1
per cent, of these lobsters were caught in the treated traps
and 3,910, or 56.9 per cent, in their corresponding untreated
In order that a reliable index of catchability might be
maintained during the experiment, a treated trap was paired
with an untreated trap, in order to reduce to a minimum the
influence that varying fishing conditions might have upon
apparent catchability results.
Since many commercial lobster fishermen are of the
opinion that the treatment of traps would reduce their catch-
ability, experimental traps were built by the Department of
Sea and Shore Fisheries; and arrangements were made for
several fishermen to operate them in conjunction with their
own untreated traps. In this way, it was hoped that prac-
tical information on the preservative qualities of various
treatments and the effect of these treatments on the catch-
ability of the traps could be obained.
These results can be used only to compare the catch-
ability of one treatment with the catchability of the cor-
responding untreated control traps. The results are:
In terms of the period covered and the areas fished, it
appears that all treatments reduced the catchability of lob-
Creosote and pitch
Chromated Zinc chloride
If 4.7, the average percentage catch of the controls, is
used as the catchability index for untreated traps, the fol-
lowing indicates the comparative catchability for the several
treatments and materials used in descending order of catch-
Creosote and pitch
Ghromated Zinc chloride
Pressure impregnated creosote
Although the results of these tests should not be con-
sidered absolute, Messrs. Dow and Baird state, they believe
the following conclusions are reasonable :
1. The average cost of treatment is sixty cents. The
average time consumed in treatment is thirty-five min-
56 ABOUT LOBSTERS
2. Borer damage is at least nine times greater in
untreated traps than in those that have been treated.
3. The life of any trap will be greatly increased by
treatment to prevent borer damage. However, where
high losses of traps from storms and other conditions
occur, these causes may outweigh the benefits of treat-
4. Any treatment used seems effective.
5. Treatments applied by brush should be renewed
periodically; probably once a year at least.
6. Creosote base preservatives appear definitely to
reduce the catchability of the trap.
7. No treated trap was as fishable as untreated
traps. (Any copper compound such as Cuprinol is
strongly poisonous to lobsters.)
8. On the basis of these experiments, the best
treatments are tar, Koppers preservative, and aniline
9. Borer control can be effected to a considerable
extent by rotating untreated traps. If untreated traps
are removed from the water for a three-day period each
month, any borers therein will be destroyed. 6
Lobster claws in Denmark are fastened by a wire; in
Britain they are tied with a string.
In the United States plugging is divided between ex-
cellent machine-made wooden plugs ( basswood ) and plastic
plugs. The plastic plug came into acceptance due to the
fact that claw blackmeat (caused by all plugs infecting the
meat) adheres to a plastic plug during cooking and is re-
moved with the plug. Sea and Shore Fisheries, in a bulletin
" Lobster Plugs and Their Effect on the Meat of a Lobster's
Claw," by Frederick T. Baird, Jr., states: "Discolored ma-
6 See Robert L. Dow and Fred T. Baird, Jr., "Methods to Reduce Borer
Damage to Lobster Traps," Maine Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries
Bulletin #3, used in preparing this section on care of pots.
terial was found to adhere to a plug made of cellulose ace-
tate so that all, or nearly all, the discolored material was
withdrawn from the claw with the plug. No other plug
tested possessed this characteristic to any degree. This plug
is recommended as a means of diminishing the amount of
discolored material in the claw following withdrawal of the
plug after cooking."
Black infected claw meat is repulsive in the cooked
lobster, and many of the largest buyers recognize that this
unappetizing black meat reaching the dining table will have
an adverse effect on marketing.
Plugging the claw is not done primarily to protect the
housewife. It is done to prevent one lobster from injuring
another, even to the extent of completely cutting a lobster
in two. A lobster is fighting mad and more than usually
pugnacious when he is taken out of the water. Usually only
the big, crusher claw is plugged. Figure 12 shows how this
plugging is done. It requires a little skill to prevent the un-
Fig. 12. Plugging a lobster
58 ABOUT LOBSTERS
plugged claw from nipping the lobsterman's hand while he
is inserting a plug.
Many of the Canadian plugs are hand whittled. Some
of them are of a fine shape, others not so good. Whittling is
a winter pastime there, or a means of obtaining tobacco
money for older men. It is estimated that a whittler can
make less than 10 cents per hour.
It is commonly believed that plugs made of cedar * *
will kill a lobster— presumably due to the oil in cedar.
Manufactured wood plugs, each branded with the word
" Maine " were tried. They were made in the form of a card,
like old-fashioned sulphur matches, one to be broken off
from the card at a time. They did not meet with lobster-
men's approval, and their labeling of a lobster seemed to be
of little appeal (see Figure 21).
The use of heavy rubber bands to secure a lobster's
claw has been tried. Ten years ago, the Maine Development
Commission even furnished these bands carrying a plastic
rectangle on which was printed " Maine Lobster." They
were hard to apply; even though some lobstermen developed
a sort of scissors to expand the bands, they were still diffi-
cult to slip over the claw of an active, pugnacious lobster
(see Figure 18).
Today ( 1961), rubber bands are again being promoted.
They are of particular appeal for use on lobsters that are to
be pounded. Whether you, as a lobsterman, like it or not,
this method is being accepted.
There are several reasons why.
1. A band does not wound a lobster, and an unin-
jured claw will not become infected. Black meat caused
by the infection of a plug cannot occur.
2. If a plug comes out of a claw, the lobster is
likely to bleed to death. There is no damage if a band
3. A plug jammed into a claw at die wrong angle
can cause a lobster to " shake " a claw, particularly in
4. An article by D. G. Wilder and D. W. McLeese
of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada shows that
plugged lobsters are more susceptible to the agent
causing blood disease.
The first of these reasons is the most powerful. The
promoters of bands have addressed themselves to big city
buyers who in turn have specified that their purchases be
banded. Recently a seacoast buyer was offered an order by
a chain store for 80,000 pounds of lobsters ( which he had )
but his fishermen were not educated to using bands, and the
store wouldn't accept his plugged lobsters.
There are two objections to banding. One is that bands
cost much more than plugs; an even more important ob-
stacle is the resistance of lobstermen to any new operation.
Excellent tongs are available but they are expensive,
and usually the buyer has to provide them free to his fisher-
men. If a buyer has from twenty to sixty lobstermen fish-
ing for him, the investment in tongs can be considerable.
Fig. 13. Banding with tabbed bands
60 ABOUT LOBSTERS
And they do get lost overboard. To meet this problem one
lobsterman has worked out a hooked rod as shown in Figure
13. Any fisherman can make one. This device holds about
twenty bands strung on it as a magazine. The end band is
slid over the hooked end, grasped and pulled outward to re-
ceive the lobster claw. This device is a J^-inch brass rod
(which can be bent cold). One end is bent down for \y 2
inches to fit into a hole in the cabin top, etc. The other end
is bent either upwards or sideways (as it is above) for y%-
inch. The sideways bending presents the stretched band in
a position many lobstermen find most convenient.
Notice that the bands in
Figure 13, and the one shown
separately in Figure 14, have a
tab as part of the band. This tab
has proved to be a great aid in
using the hooked rod described
Fig. 14. Tabbed rubbeTband above. It makes the gripping
and stretching of the band much
easier. Tabbed bands are the same price per pound as the
regular ones. But there are fewer to the pound.
Opinion seems to be equally divided between the lob-
stermen who claim banding is as quick as plugging, and
those who say banding is much slower.
There are two things to look for in buying bands:
1. Don't buy bands made of compounded rubber,
even though they are much cheaper. Compounded rub-
ber has been adulterated with cheapening materials. It
has neither the stretch nor the life of pure gum rubber.
It is easy to test, for compounded rubber will sink if
dropped in a glass of fresh water, while pure rubber
2. Don't buy bands less than 7/16" wide, and l / 2 "
is best. They will stay on better, and be slower to chafe
through. The only advantage to a narrower band is that
there are more to a pound.
Lobstermen sputter when required to band their catch,
and blame the dealer. But there isn't much a dealer can do
ABOUT LOBSTERS 61
if his wholesaler demands banded lobsters. In ports where
dealers had to have banded lobsters, the fishermen seem to
have accepted the change with less opposition than was
The rubber people claim there are approximately 800
regular y 2 " bands to one pound.
The great majority of buoys are made of white cedar,
though white pine ones are occasionally seen. There is need
for a better buoy, since even any light wood becomes water-
logged before the season is finished, requiring drying out on
the beach. Unfortunately, they do not dry thoroughly, as
their paint prohibits exuding all the interior moisture. A
glass globe buoy such as is used on nets is a good example.
If a glass buoy has a tiny, invisible hole it will leak water
inside, yet if hung up indoors, it will retain this water for
The war surplus doughnuts of black floatation material
made good buoys, but they have all been bought up. Buoy-
ant materials of blown-up plastic are available and good,
but they are fragile and expensive.
An ideal buoy
1. has great buoyancy
2. does not become waterlogged
3. is tough
4. cannot be punctured, as by gash from a vessel's
5. takes paint readily
The fluorescent paints, such as Day-glo, could be of
benefit to buoys. Buoys painted with Day-glo can be seen
much more readily in fog or overcast weather. It is the
paint often used on roadside billboards and the tops of fire
hydrants. Objections to it are that it is expensive, and it re-
quires a base coat of white paint, then two coats of color
and finally a coat of special varnish for protection.
The use of toggles is more common in eastern Maine,
where tides run higher than they do to the westward. Tog-
62 ABOUT LOBSTERS
gles are 2-quart glass bottles sealed with a rubber cork (so
the water pressure will not push the cork into the bottle)
and attached part- way down the warp. They serve to keep
the slack of the warp off the bottom at low water. They are
a nuisance to handle when the warp runs up over the block
in the davit during hauling.
Trawling for lobsters commenced about 1955, and was
started because of the need of an imaginative dealer who
sought for new sources of lobster supply. Lobster buying
is highly competitive, and finding a new way to procure
lobsters should be profitable.
William Benson of Portland, who was a pioneer in
We use the otter trawl such as is part of a modern
dragger, and our nets are employed with exactly the
same principles as those of conventional dragging. We
have several adaptations which facilitate use of the
gear for lobsters especially. For instance, we have to be
careful not to crush or damage them. Therefore, we
cannot use rollers under any circumstances.
Depths run from forty-three to two hundred and
twenty-five fathoms in our experience. Lobsters are
most commonly found on the edge of the Continental
Shelf in a general area reaching from George's Bank to
the Virginia Capes. We fish where experience shows
lobsters to have been according to our records. Seasonal
movements in locality and depth are predictable.
We do not get many salable fish. Fish do not seem
to want to hang around places where there are lobsters.
As a matter of fact, lobsters must be downright un-
friendly because it is very seldom that you catch any-
thing else when there is good lobster fishing.
We have little or no damage from the nets because
of the above mentioned adaptations and precautions.
Other mortality averages about three per cent.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 63
The obstacles in the taking of lobsters offshore by
this method may be summed up in one thought. The
trick is to get them home in good condition.
Damage to gear is rather slight under normal cir-
cumstances because we work usually on smooth bottom.
A boat adequate for the work and fully equipped would
cost a minimum of forty thousand dollars. About ten
or eleven units start this type of fishing every year and
run into difficulties keeping the lobsters to get them
ashore. A lobster is a very complex live, perishable
commodity and fishermen with no experience in han-
dling them usually have many troubles.
The future of offshore lobster work is potentially
large. It goes without saying that the United States
has to expand its fishery in every possible direction to
meet competition. It is my opinion that the lobster in-
dustry and its methods of production up to this point is
the most retarded segment of our coastal industries.
The lobster trap we are using today was designed in
about 1670. I simply felt there was no sense in waiting
another two hundred and ninety years and besides I
didn't have the time.
Trawling is not wholly seasonal, and lobsters can
be taken in winter. Remember that in a dragging op-
eration we catch what is in the path of the drag, and in
trap fishing the lobster has the power of selection as to
whether or not he will enter the trap. Lobsters stay in
greater depths in winter, and they tend to drop off the
Continental Shelf into depths not convenient even for a
The weight per lobster is much greater than in pot
fishing and there are not many shorts. However, one
must take into consideration that lobsters travel by
sizes. In other words, large lobsters seem to stay by
themselves and so do the small ones.
The troubles of learning were many. Keeping the
lobsters after we caught them was the biggest hurdle.
64 ABOUT LOBSTERS
We were forced to work in tributaries of the Gulf
Stream where water temperatures at the surface were as
great as eighty- three degrees. It took a year to devise
mechanical means of sustaining the lobsters aboard a
boat. Now we can keep them indefinitely. We make
trips varying in length five to eleven days.
Because trawling catches many lobsters oversize and
illegal for Maine, there is a problem in handling them. It is
not necessary for the trawler to go to a port in some other
state to unload the bigger lobsters: They can be landed in
Maine under bond so long as they are immediately trans-
ported out of the state.
There is a feeling among some dealers that really large
lobsters are difficult to sell. They contain so much meat that
few customers can use them, and often the dealer has to
cook them and cut them up to get his money back. Some
customers have a belief that the meat of extra large lobsters
is tough. This is probably an error, and in any event many
epicures feel that such meat has more flavor.
Very large lobsters are a good advertising exhibit when
shown alive in a tank.
William C. Schroeder of the Woods Hole Oceano-
graphic Institution has published a pamphlet on trawling
that adds much information. The following information is
drawn from it:
To the west and south of New England, the landings of
lobsters taken offshore with otter trawls have shown a steady
increase in the New York-New Jersey region during the past
few years. These catches, compared with those taken in-
shore with pots, show almost two to three times as many
lobsters taken by trawl than with pots ( 1954-1956).
The tagging of lobsters from offshore depths, and their
recapture, indicates that these deep-water lobsters do not
wander far from their home. This implies that the offshore
lobsters live apart from the inshore ones, and furnish a new
lobster fishery which as yet has scarcely been touched.
Experiences of fishermen trawling offshore have
ABOUT LOBSTERS 65
shown that an area yielding a good catch one week may
be sparsely populated the next, but soon thereafter may
again be productive. In such a case, the poor fishing
might be due to the large catches of the previous trip,
but if so, certain areas, at least, soon become repopu-
lated by lobsters which shift ground, presumably from
close by. [This is contrary to records of pot fishing in
While the offshore population comprises lobsters of
all sizes, individuals of two pounds or more make up a
much larger percentage of the population than in in-
shore waters where the fishery has been intensive for
many years. . . . Individuals of fifteen to twenty-five
pounds are not rare in offshore waters. . . . 7
The preserving of the catch on the 60-foot dragger
Sonia was accomplished by " the use of three storage con-
tainers on deck (two of them 3 feet wide, 2y 2 feet deep, 12
feet long, each holding 1600 pounds of lobsters, and one 3
feet by 2 feet by 7 feet, holding 800 pounds ) supplied with
running water from two pumps. When these were filled,
lobsters were packed in the hold on burlap and ice." 8
Lobstermen are often at war with trawlers, particularly
with such trawlers as plow through an area marked by lob-
ster buoys and dredge up the pots and even scrape off the
bottom feed. It is probable, however, that trawling as de-
scribed by Benson, in water too deep for pot fishing, does
not hamper the lobsterman.
Eveiyone can learn something from how the other fel-
low practices his trade. The Scottish Marine Laboratory
has researched and reported on customs in the British lob-
ster industry in a detail that we have not reached in this
William C. Schroeder, " The Lobster, Homarus americanus, and the red
crab, Geryon quinquedens, in the offshore waters of the western North
66 ABOUT LOBSTERS
Modern traps consist of some sort of cage with an
access via one or more "eyes" [or heads]. They fall
into two broad classes; those with an eye at the top
which, for convenience, are being referred to as " pots "
( examples being the Cornish, French and Dutch pots ) ,
and those with a single eye or two eyes situated at the
sides, referred to as " creels " and commonly employed
around Scotland and Canada, as well as elsewhere.
A test was carried out in Orkney waters on the
relative efficiency of the Scottish creel [as in Figure 71,
and the Cornish pot [Figure 91. The two traps were
found to be roughly equally effective as judged by the
number of lobsters and crabs caught. The creel took 66
lobsters and 91 marketable sized crabs compared with
48 lobsters and 86 crabs in the pot. The Cornish pot,
however, took a slightly larger average size of crab than
the Scottish creel. The average widths were 5.5" and
A proportion of lobsters and crabs which have en-
tered a trap, escape again through the eye(s). It is
reasonable to suppose that escape is harder from a pot
than from a creel. This however, is offset by the fact
that, in practice, the eye of the pot is larger and it is
probably for this reason that in the experiments refer-
red to above, the pot retained larger crabs than the
creel. It has been suggested that a pot has an advan-
tage over a creel on fishing grounds which have thick
growth of long tangle, it being assumed that in these
circumstances the low-lying eyes of the creels will be-
come blocked. Against this, however, must be placed
the fact that under most conditions the creel eyes are
probably more readily reached.
Pots are constructed with a single entrance. Creels,
on the other hand, may be single or double entrance.
Experiments have shown that the double-entrance creel
fishes better than the single entrance. In the test the
double-entrance creel caught 62 lobsters and 356 mar-
ketable crabs, as compared with 56 lobsters and 280
ABOUT LOBSTERS 67
crabs for the single-entrance creels. This result, how-
ever, may not apply in all circumstances. Direct obser-
vations have shown that access to a creel offers some
difficulty. Lobsters have been seen to hunt around and
over the creel, in trying to reach the bait, and often only
after some time is access found via the head. In a pro-
portion of cases, access was not obtained. In these cir-
cumstances two entrances would seem to increase the
opportunity for lobsters and crabs to enter the creel.
Furthermore, where a single-entrance creel falls on an
uneven bottom, there will be times when the entrance is
blocked. On the other hand, the entrance also affords a
means of escape. If, instead of being hauled daily,
creels are left out for several days at a time, as may be
necessary on exposed coasts, it could be that the single-
entrance variety would not be at the same disadvan-
tage, compared with the double-entrance type and its
double chance of escape. Single-entrance creels can
also be constructed in a smaller size than double-en-
trance and where the number of traps which can be
worked is restricted by the size of the boat, it may be
advantageous, for lobster fishing, to use the maximum
number of the smaller single-entrance creels.
The size of entrance varies considerably. As stated
above, the pot entrance is, in general, bigger than that
of a creel. For instance, the eye [head] of the French
pot is about 10" in diameter while that of the Cornish
pot is about 8". These compare with an average di-
ameter of 5%" for the Scottish creel. There tends to be,
however, a fairly wide variation about these means.
Experiments with the Scottish creel have shown that
the diameter of the eye imposes an upper limit on the
size of lobsters and crabs which can enter. Crabs are
less able to maneuver through a small opening than
lobsters of comparable weight and therefore a larger
eye is generally required for crab as opposed to lobster
fishing. This shows up in the results of experiments
using a variety of eye diameters. The size of crab
68 ABOUT LOBSTERS
caught is related to the diameter of the eye, much
more markedly than is the case with lobsters. In the
test, the average length of lobster caught by creels of
eye diameter 4" was 10.6" as compared with 10.8" for
creels of 6" eye diameter. In the case of crabs the
comparable carapace widths were 5.2" and 5.6" respec-
tively. The results obtained, however, depend to some
extent upon the stock composition of the populations
being fished. For instance, on grounds where the lob-
sters are mainly large, the size restriction of the creel
eye would be more apparent than with a well fished
stock where few lobsters were over 12" overall length.
The deterrent effect to larger lobsters of a small sized
creel eye has been shown in an experiment comparing
the catch of a hoop net with that of a Scottish creel,
since there is no size restriction with a hoop net. Using
a creel with an eye of diameter Ay 2 " there was a pro-
gressive falling off in the efficiency of the creel vis-a-vis
the hoop net in respect of lengths of over 10y 2 ", while
for lobsters of lengths \2 l / 2 " to 14" the creel proved
little better than half as efficient as the hoop net when
comparing the number of large lobsters caught by each
gear with the catch of 100 lobsters of 10 l / 2 " and under.
Very small lobsters can escape from traps between
the meshes or laths. Larger sizes may escape through
the eye. While a large eye facilitates entry, it also fa-
cilitates escape, and the two effects tend to offset each
other. Also, smaller lobsters and crabs escape more
readily than larger ones. The interplay of these factors
has been shown to result in a larger average size of
lobsters being landed from single-entrance creels than
from creels with two eyes of the same size, when hauled
daily. The effect, however, could well vaiy according
to the fishing conditions, for example, the necessity to
leave creels out two or more days.
It has been shown that lobsters and crabs enter a
creel more readily if the lower half of the eye inlet is
lined by fine mesh netting. The rig of the eye has been
ABOUT LOBSTERS 69
found to affect the ease of escape and a high rigged eye
has been shown to be the more efficient, particularly
with smaller lobsters and crabs which find it less easy
to escape. This had the result that the average size of
lobster and crab landed was less in the case of the high
rig than the low rig. However, this was offset by the
greater numbers of lobsters and crabs. It is reasonable
to assume that the effect would become more marked
as the interval between haulings increases.
The necessity for a larger eye for crabs as opposed
to lobster fishing has already been mentioned. This ap-
plies also to the fishery for spiny lobsters, and accounts
for the very much wider eye diameter ( about 10" ) used
in the French pot. These traps are normally hauled
every few hours and are less efficient if employed in the
manner usually adopted with creels. It is this type of
circumstance, dependent upon local custom, which ac-
counts for the disappointing results some fishermen
have obtained when using gear with which they are un-
familiar and which may not be suitable to the particular
nature of their fishery.
In some areas where large creels are used in the
crab fishery the heads are located in each end of the
creel as opposed to the normal position in the sides.
They are also made short, the argument being that the
end heads facilitate entry into the creel. This is satis-
factory for crabs although not for lobsters. The latter,
being longer, can reach the bait, which is in line with
the eye, without fully entering the creel.
Because of the ease with which lobsters and crabs
escape through an open eye, fishermen have developed
a number of ways of impeding exit. These, however,
must also to some extent hinder entry. The balance be-
tween these factors is largely determined by other fish-
ing conditions. The eye of the Cornish pot is protected
by three, or sometimes two, skewers which are forced
through the basket work of the eye so as to project
downwards and inwards towards the centre. The
70 ABOUT LOBSTERS
skewers also carry the bait. Creel eyes are often made
without any firm inner ring or with the inner end at-
tached to a sleeve of rubber cut from an old car inner
tube. The flexible inner end is thought to deter escape.
The most common non-escape device associated
with creels is a shaped wire shutter, hinged to the
inner end of the eye so as to open inwards. This device
was investigated by comparative fishing experiments.
In one series of experiments, using creels of intermedi-
ate rig with an eye diameter 4^", those having non-
escape (shuttered) eyes caught fewer lobsters and
crabs than open-eyed traps. The respective catches
were 56 lobsters and 280 marketable crabs compared
with 75 lobsters and 374 crabs for the open-eyed creels.
In fact, with the eye in the intermediate position, the
deterrent to entiy more than offset the limitation of es-
capes. Creels, however, with low-rigged eye inlets
fished better having a shuttered eye. In a second series
of experiments, using a light-gauge wire for the shutter
and with constant attention to ensure free action of the
eye, the non-escape shutter proved advantageous on
creels of eye diameter 5" and over, even though high
rigged. Again, at 5 l / 2 " eye diameter the respective
catches were 22 lobsters and 41 crabs with the open eye
as compared with 48 lobsters and 54 crabs with the
shuttered eye. But, because of the selective effect of
creel eye on the escape of lobsters and crabs, a smaller
average size is landed from shuttered-eye creels. For all
that, the shutters do not wholly prevent escapes
through the eye. Where creels are tilted on an uneven
bottom, one eye may be effectively open while the other
is obstructed. Also, in dropping a creel, a shutter oc-
casionally gets caught up on the braiding of the top of
the creel and the eye therefore remains open. The ad-
vantage of any such non-escape device is increased
where creels are frequently left for long periods between
ABOUT LOBSTERS 71
The diameter of the eye and the rig of the eye inlet
affect the number and size of lobsters and crabs landed
as does the fitment of non-escapement devices. Further-
more, these effects differ with stocks of lobsters and
crabs of different size composition and vary with
changes in fishing conditions. To achieve the best re-
sult the creel should be matched to the circumstances
in which it is to be used. 9
The escape inhibitor of the Leakey pot seems to * *
overcome some of the disadvantages of the wire shutter. 10
The size of traps used for catching lobsters and
crabs varies considerably. The braided creel, in use
around Scotland, has a base diameter of roughly 27" x
18" and a height of 14". Generally this is the smallest
type, principally because it can conveniently be con-
structed in a small size. Traps made in wood, for in-
stance, slatted creels (dimensions 36" x 22" x 16") and
Cornish (base diameter 27", height 20") or French
pots (length 28", diameter 20"), are larger mainly for
ease in construction. It is significant that the Dutch
pot, which is in metal, is considerably smaller than the
basically similar Cornish pot, which is made from wil-
low. There is, in general, a preference for a larger trap
where crabs rather than lobsters are an important con-
stituent of the catch. This is mainly because crabs are
often caught several per trap ( exceptionally as many as
20 have been taken in one creel) and more room must
be allowed than in the case of the lobster, which is
much less abundant.
Apart from allowing enough room for the catch,
there would appear to be material advantage in adopt-
ing a small trap. Its size and small weight make it easy
9 Taken from Dr. H. J. Thomas, " A Comparison of Some Methods Used in
Lobster and Crab Fishing " (Marine Laboratory, Aberdeen, Scotland).
10 See page 49.
72 ABOUT LOBSTERS
to handle and make it possible to increase the number
of traps which can be stored on board ship. This latter
factor is of especial importance where exposed coasts
are fished or when crews are engaged in cruises of sev-
eral days' duration; the ability to ship all the gear, for
instance, to move to sheltered waters, is important.
Where traps are fished not singly but with several at-
tached along a common ground rope, small traps may
permit working bigger fleets since it must be possible
to accommodate the whole of one fleet on board.
Because of the advantage of being able to stow a
large number of traps a variety of collapsible types have
been designed. So far, however, none of these has
found general acceptance amongst fishermen, although
further trial may be advisable.
There is a natural tendency to think that a larger
quantity of bait will attract more lobsters and crabs. In
experiments, carried out with Scottish creels and Corn-
ish pots in Orkney, the catch of lobsters and crabs with
half a salted mackerel per trap was not significantly less
than when three times this amount was used. The re-
spective catches were 56 lobsters for single baitings
compared with 59 for triple baitings.
Summary of Suggestions
1. If available, use fresh fish for bait.
2. Use net covered creels, avoiding wooden parts
in construction as far as convenient; for instance, by
adopting iron hoops and casting the concrete into the
creel so that it forms part of the base.
3. Use double-headed creels with the heads high
rigged and located in the sides.
4. Line the lower half of the head inlet with fine
ABOUT LOBSTERS 73
5. Ill fishing lobsters only, adopt a small creel;
when working crabs, a somewhat larger creel.
6. For an all-purpose compromise creel, an internal
diameter of 5%" is suggested for the inner ring of the
head, which should be fitted with a non-escape shutter.
The latter should be regularly checked to ensure free
7. A smaller open eye (4j/>") is preferable for lob-
ster fishing in sheltered waters with a moderately well
fished stock and daily hauling.
8. A shuttered eye is recommended where hauling
9. 5*4 " shuttered eye is indicated for lobster fish-
ing on exposed coasts where the stock is not much ex-
ploited, and for mixed lobster and crab fishing.
10. 5 J / 2 " open eye is suitable for crab fishing where
hauling is regular daily ( a non-escape shutter should be
fitted where lobsters are likely to be caught in any small
number ) .
11. In shallow water, when lobster fishing from
small boats, use single creels, siting each creel.
12. In deeper water such as fished from larger
boats, and during winter and bad weather by small
boats, use creels in a trawl. The number of creels per
trawl should be matched to the local bottom conditions.
On patchy and rough bottoms short trawls of up to 10
creels are best. On uniformly good and even bottoms
longer trawls of up to 50 creels are suitable.
13. Adapt the methods to the prevailing condi-
tions. There is no one style of fishing or gear which
will prove the best under all circumstances. The gear
should be chosen to suit the style of fishing (lobsters
and/or crabs, size of boat, nature of the bottom, ex-
posure, etc.). Within these broad limits, detail should
be varied to suit the season and the prevailing weather
11 Thomas, op. cit.
One respected and successful lobsterman has stated:
" Summer or winter, if you put a lobster pot where
there are some lobsters, you will catch them. Too many
fishermen blame their lack of accuracy and instincts for fish-
ing on bait, weather behavior and other conclusions of their
own. A lobster is simple enough. But if the guy going after
him is even simpler, he might as well give up."
Lobster bait is usually the offal remaining after fillets
have been removed from edible fish, or waste from sardine
canning. It is packed in open barrels at filleting plants.
These plants are often in large fishing centers such as
Gloucester, Rockland, or even Provincetown, so extensive
trucking is necessary to bring the bait to the many small
A competing buyer of fish waste is the large fishmeal
industry which grinds and dries this waste into chicken feed.
The fishmeal people are able to offer increasingly higher
prices for fish scrap— and higher prices than lobstermen can
pay. Fish scrap which cost $1.00 a bushel a few years ago
now sells for as high as $1.60. Moreover, fish catches are ir-
regular; big runs of herring, etc., are followed by lean
catches. The fishmeal factories can handle large batches of
scrap when it is available, but the lobsterman cannot handle
such surplus (except by a troublesome packing in barrels
between layers of salt, i.e. pickling).
A manufactured bait would make a lobsterman inde-
pendent of vagaries of the fish supply. Three days without
bait (which may happen whenever red fish or herring are
not running) means three days lost to the lobsterman, and
three days every now and then amount to a sizable lost time.
A manufactured bait could be shipped to any seaport in ad-
vance of its use and stored for a reasonable time. There
would be none of the uncertainty involved in finding a truck
which will take stinking fish scraps aboard and carry them
ABOUT LOBSTERS 75
from Gloucester to some out-of-the-way harbor— with little
chance of a return cargo.
Any manufactured lobster bait will be smelly. But it
would in no way be as offensive as are barrels of fish scrap
stored in the sun on a lobster wharf, waiting to be used.
Lobstermen are limited to the sites they can use for a wharf
due to the odor, and many convenient locations are closed
to them— locations which could be used if a manufactured
bait stored in sealed containers could be used. Similarly,
fish wharves which now are repugnant to summer visitors,
boating parties, etc., would become attractive if a manu-
factured bait were available instead of fish scrap. Any man
who sails can name a dozen harbors which are avoided be-
cause they stink too much.
Fish scrap is not only smelly and costly, but the bones
of the fish can cause painful infections. When a lobsterman
jams a handful of brim (scrap from filleted fish) on a bait
hook, the fish bones can pierce his hand.' Many fishermen
have to take several days off during a season to recover from
Lobstermen are accustomed to think that the cost of
their bait is the price they pay per bushel. This is correct if
the buyer is large enough to pay for a truckload delivered at
his wharf (as with the cooperatives), but the small buyer
must add the cost of his time in going and coming to the
seller's plant. In some ports, it has been customary for sev-
eral lobstermen to join together and each take a turn in
fetching the bait, often a full day's work. This should be
added to the cost, but usually it is not.
There are about eight thousand lobstermen in New
England. They average perhaps seventy-five pots per man.
Pots are usually baited daily with three pounds of fish
scraps, and the pots are fished eight months in the year.
This adds up to over a million pounds of bait used daily.
It is a big industry.
The making of a synthetic lobster bait consists of find-
76 ABOUT LOBSTERS
ing a chemical lure and impregnating it into a carrier, such
as a fish-oil soap or sawdust or fishmeal. One long series of
experiments was carried out by a corporation called " Lob-
Lure." Maine Coast Fisherman covered the story in the May
and June issue of 1959.
The idea of a manufactured lobster bait dates back to
early in World War II when two yachtsmen of Hingham,
Massachusetts, veterans of World War I, Dudley Baker and
Osborne M. Curtis, awoke to the help lobstermen might give
to the war effort. They realized that lobstermen, who put
to sea nearly every day in the week, were in a position to
supplement our Naval Intelligence. Lobstermen see the
burnt wreckage floating ashore, the bodies drifting in, or the
strange light out on a point. So these two men sold our
Navy the idea of taking them on as civilian Navy intelli-
gence men, and they organized the lobstermen from East-
port to Connecticut into an information reporting group.
This work involved meeting many of the top liners
among the lobstermen, and of course, learning something
about lobstering and its problems. Curtis was particularly
impressed with the problem of lobster bait— its smell, its
cost, its likelihood of causing infection, and its seasonal
So Curtis set out to develop a manufactured bait. He
took in with him his sailing partner, this author, and they
embarked on what became a six-year attempt, before they
gave up. LobLure was the name of the corporation they
formed and was to be the name of the artificial lobster bait
they hoped to produce.
LobLure's first step was based on the generally accepted
fact that oily fish such as herring or menhaden make die
best bait; hence it was a fair deduction that the fish oil was
the lobster attractant. Cloth bags were made, filled with
sand, and saturated with uncooked herring oil. They
wouldn't fish, gave no indication at all of being attractive.
Four years later, and much wiser, LobLure concluded that
the reason for oily fish being better bait was not because the
oil was so attractive, but because the oil waterproofed the
ABOUT LOBSTERS 77
fish so that its flesh continued for a longer time to give off
something that the lobsters wanted.
Oil had a place in all LobLure baits. One intelli- * *
gent fisherman of the type whose statements of fact
were generally true, and not colored by guesses and old
wives tales, had found on the beach a full can of sar-
dines. It was a large oval can, and had been punctured.
The oil in it was a dark color similar to 600W engine
oil. He used it in a pot and it caught lobsters as no
other bait before or after had done.
In an effort to duplicate this bait, several cans of sar-
dines packed in different oils were purchased. Each can was
punctured with several holes so that it would be infected by
airborne bacteria. The different oils in the cans were olive
oil, soy bean oil, and peanut oil. In some of the cans, the
oil was poured off and molasses substituted, to test a rumor
that molasses mixed with salt herring would improve that
bait. Lobstermen sometimes find a method of fishing which
is better, but they often attribute the wrong reason for their
The cans were left at the warm back of a stove to in-
cubate any bacteria. In the end, they showed little evidence
of deterioration. (Might this have been due to the oil cover-
ing the sardines and excluding the air? )
The cans were fished in comparison with redfish and
were about 50 per cent as effective. The molasses treated
cans were even less good. It was judged that the incuba-
tion time had not been long enough. From these tests it
seemed as if two things had been learned. First, that when
fish is coated with oil its rate of decomposition is slowed.
Second, that the slight amount of oil which escaped from
these tins actually did fish, though not well, and that the
amount of fish flesh which left the can must have been very
slight except as sand fleas chewed away portions of it.
It is hard to see how the oil in a sardine can can * *
fish effectively as it apparently did, and to understand
how oil, which will immediately rise to the surface, can
diffuse enough to attract a lobster. Apparently, a lob-
78 ABOUT LOBSTERS
ster has some extremely delicate sense which can detect * *
fish oil as it rises to the surface several fathoms above
him. Lobsters on the bottom have been observed to
follow an oil slick on the surface.
Apparently oil will carry the attractant to a lobster pro-
vided the oil is of the right nature, and provided the fish has
been incubated with the right bacteria and to the right
The baits which were fished that spring were ground
fish with which redfish oil had been mixed. The fish scrap
was incubated through its own marine bacteria, and was
grown in a large bottle whose neck was closed by sterile
cotton to exclude air bacteria. It incubated several times
faster than frozen mackerel, presumably because in frozen
fish the natural marine bacteria had been sterilized by the
freezing. Frozen mackerel treated with oil fished about 75
per cent as well as natural fish bait.
Net-covered cotton pads tied up in a roll and saturated
with herring oil were tried next. The pads seemed to lose
little of their oil, as quantities could be squeezed out after
two days' fishing. One of them caught several lobsters,
showing that oil alone carries some attractant for lobsters.
The next bait was composed of mackerel pellets to
which 15 per cent water had been added. They were air-
inoculated for twenty-nine hours, and 10 per cent redfish oil
was added. They fished about 25 per cent as well as natural
fish bait. At the end of three days, they showed little de-
terioration and the center of the bait was packed down into
a hard, impermeable mass.
From the start, LobLure was hampered by the widely
varying opinions of different lobstermen. Many of these
opinions were correct as to what would or would not attract
lobsters, but no fisherman had made actual tests. LobLure
had to have actual recorded tests if they were to be financed
as a commercial business. So a member of the corporation
went out with lobstermen when each test pot was baited
and again when it was hauled. An accurate record was
ABOUT LOBSTERS 79
kept, as had probably never been done before. Tests were
made with a string of pots, each alternate pot carrying the
test bait, the other pots baited with redfish as a standard for
The importance of such recorded tests cannot be over-
emphasized. An example was the hauling of a test pot hav-
ing five large lobsters in it. The lobsterman was delighted,
waved his hands around and yelled, " You've got it, boys,
you've got it!" If LobLure had had only his opinion to go
on, they would have been delighted too. But the record of
that string of pots showed this haul was a fluke, and it had
not averaged as well as redfish.
In going out with lobstermen, the LobLure experi-
menters learned about lobsters as few people, except profes-
sional lobstermen, could. In addition, they learned which
beliefs about lobsters were probably true, and which ones
were doubtful. (For example, they tested the widely held
belief that a brick soaked in kerosene " will fish like a fool." J^-
It won't. It will fish, but only about 60 per cent as well as
redfish.) They learned fishing habits from Cutler, Maine,
down through Connecticut; some were very intelligent and
a few were just " notions."
Fundamentally, die problem was to learn what lobster-
attractive substances there are in dead fish. It did not sound
too difficult. But what is chemically in a dead fish now is
not what is in that same fish an hour from now, since de-
composition is constantly changing the structure of the fish.
Two chemicals were found in quantity, acetic acid and
ammonium compounds. The problem then was to soak these
materials up in a carrier, and there would be your bait. For
a carrier, many things were tried, from sawdust to fishmeal.
It was found that fishmeal was the best carrier, but fishmeal
alone would not catch lobsters, particularly if it was oily. If
the oil was pressed out it was much better ( it is hard to un-
derstand this contradiction), and if only a little freshly
ground fish were added it was very much better.
The next problem was how to dispense this bait in a
80 ABOUT LOBSTERS
lobster pot. Three variables appeared which were not con-
1. The speed with which a bait dissolves is gov-
erned by where the pot lands on the ocean floor. If it
lands in a valley through which tides and ocean cur-
rents sweep, the bait does not last long. If it lands in a
placid spot, the bait does not dissolve quickly enough.
2. The temperature of the water also governs the
speed. Warm summer water naturally dissolves a bait
quicker than cold water. ( Eventually, LobLure put out
a different bait for winter fishing, when the water
would be colder and the pots not hauled every day. )
3. The feeding cycle of lobsters, particularly be-
fore and after shedding, varies.
The most attractive method of dispensing a bait was to
make it into a cake of salt-water soap, using fish oil as the
necessary fat. It looked thoroughly commercial, easy to
make and ship. But it had many disadvantages: either the
soap was too soft and washed away quickly, or if it was
harder, it did not fish well the first few days and finally did
not fish at all, becoming a hard mass with a water-impervi-
ous shell. Notice how these experiments led toward a bait
intended to fish for several days, instead of a one-day set. It
was not a bad trend, as a bait which was good for several
days could be sold for a higher price and be more profitable.
At this time, LobLure made its only experiments using
ammonium compounds in the soap. They showed no indi-
cation of being attractants and were discontinued.
Many other materials were tried, such as coco butter.
LobLure was encouraged to use this material because of a
wreck (The City of Salisbury) near Graves Light in Boston
Harbor. A steamer had piled up on an uncharted rock, and
in its cargo were many cases of coco butter. A year later,
a lobsterman had found that lobsters were thick around the
submerged hull. It looked as though the coco butter might
have attracted them, but the big supply of lobsters was
probably due to the fact that this area had not been fished,
rather than to the coco butter. Or it may be that the wreck
ABOUT LOBSTERS 81
played host to algae or shellfish attractive to lobsters. A salt-
water angler knows that the most fish are found around
wrecks. In any case, LobLure was not able to find any im-
proved attraction from the use of coco butter. It is interest-
ing to note that coco oil has the unusual property of blend-
ing with sea water.
The high content of phosphorus in lobster meat 1 led to
a search to learn if phosphorus added to a bait could be an
attractant. A Danish patent (No. 23445 of September 1918)
was discovered and translated. It describes the use of phos-
phorus mixed with animal intestines in fish oil and claims it
is a successful bait. (It does not specify lobsters.) Since
there are two kinds of phosphorus, red and white, and since
white phosphorus is highly poisonous and has to be kept
under water lest it burst into flames, it seemed evident that
red phosphorus was the only material to use.
Phosphorus, in either form, is insoluble in water. Hence
its addition to a bait did not promise much. If the Danish
patent had said phosphoric acid, it is possible that benefi-
cial results might have been obtained, but that is not what
the patent says.
The Danish formula was copied exactly and fished 22
times against redfish bait. None of the phosphorus baits
caught even a single lobster, while the redfish baits caught
The next step was away from the soap cake into a paste
bait. Since a soft bait would have to be held in a container,
as well as need more protection from fish and sea fleas, it
was necessary to develop something better than the old-
style wooden bait box. Over fifty models were built and
tried. Eventually, LobLure settled on a cylindrical screen
container (2" diameter x 8") made of heavy wire with
wooden bungs for ends and lined with plastic window
screening to exclude sea fleas. With the containers went an
ice cream scoop to handle the pasty bait. With the paste
baits a new formula was evolved which included some
ground fresh fish scrap, and had good fishing qualities.
1 See page 28.
82 ABOUT LOBSTERS
The use of ground fish as a part of LobLure was based
on the fact that fish in bulk, such as the carcass of a filleted
fish, presents only part of its surface to the sea water. When
this same carcass is ground up, the areas presented to the
sea water are greatly increased. LobLure found that two
ounces of ground fish could be as attractive to lobsters as
several pounds of unground fish. As always, LobLure
fetched up against a new problem, namely that the ground
fish would become compacted so hard that water could not
enter to dissolve the bait. They had to have an open bait or
a bait whose binder would dissolve and let the water in.
That meant a bait needing careful protection and control.
The control was an important feature, and actually meant
that LobLure had to sell a method of fishing rather than
just a bait.
The amount of the catch was not dependable. Some-
times the bait was twice as good as redfish, but more often
the catch would be only 60 per cent as good. Several of the
fishermen would not believe that two lots of bait were the
same formula. They were the same, and were very carefully
watched to prevent any variation. That they did not fish
equally was due to the many uncontrollable factors in-
volved. For instance, the water content as well as the chem-
ical nature of fish scrap would vary with its age, and it was
not possible to buy this scrap at a definite number of hours
old. Then again, the oiliness of the scrap would vary de-
pending on the kind of fish being filleted. In addition, the
use of fresh fish scrap increased the cost. LobLure was ac-
tually trending back towards the selling of brim as a manu-
Many other chemicals were tried, covering a wide
range such as butyric acid, propionic acid, amino com-
pounds, and tri-methylamine of awful odor, but with no
LobLure ended up convinced that any successful bait
must be on the acid side. This conclusion eliminated the use
of salt-water soap as a dissolving binder, as any soap would
be an alkaline.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 83
LobLure also found that any bait using a fish oil must
not be a cooked bait, since cooking turned the oil into a
water impenetrable varnish.
And then, all its capital gone, LobLure went out of
business in 1949. Why? Two opinions are quoted: " We
can only surmise that the reason that LobLure does not
consistently fish as well, or better than, redfish or other fish
bait, is because it is lacking in a concentration of materials
which are most attractive to lobsters LobLure failed
because it concentrated on one type of lure. It had several
possible paths of development open, but followed one path
in great detail without first exploring other paths to learn
which was most promising." And the path it chose was not
good enough: six years of work, over $30,000 spent, 4,000
supervised tests made of some 350 formulas, and no com-
Some interesting experiments with artificial bait were
made by Dr. Harry Lee, formerly of Stonington, Maine. He
used freon gas mixed with fish oil, in a container which lib-
erated the gas slowly.
His idea was based on the fact that freon gas will ab-
sorb the oil (and the attendant odor). This gas also dis-
solves in sea water so that the oil carried by the gas would
be dissipated in the water. Its effect was not to liberate
globules of oil (which would immediately rise to the sur-
face), but to spread the oil throughout the water.
Result: " It would catch lobsters, but not so well as
any number of baits used around Stonington."
Light for Lures
It seemed as though light might attract lobsters.
Lobstermen claim that they cannot catch lobsters * *
during periods of high-course tides. This is when the
moon is full and brightest. Some fishermen attribute
this to the brightness of the moonlight, but this does
not seem to be the answer, as poor fishing occurs dur- * *
ing high tides even when the moon is obscured.
Recently, during a five-year period, one investigator
tried every combination of lights that he could devise. Here
are some of the schemes:
First, he worked largely with real radium salts such as
are painted on watch dials; also Willemite, a zinc material
which glows brilliant green under the influence of radium
radiations. Another chemical tested was a phosphorus com-
pound and zinc cadmium sulphite. His best mounting of
radium was inside the ball-like glass top of a coffee percola-
tor. This glass could be plugged with a rubber cork, making
it watertight (see Figure 15). This device was tried in
various degrees of brightness be-
cause it was feared that the light
might be too bright for the light-
sensitive eyes of a lobster in twenty
fathoms of water, where there is
normally almost no light. Tests
were attempted in the usual lob-
ster tanks in a very dark room, at
first, but this investigator had no
confidence in them since he knew,
as do lobstermen, that lobsters act
very differently in a tank than they
do on the ocean floor. All tests
thereafter were made in pots under
actual fishing conditions, and a
careful record was kept.
Several skin-diving photographers have reported that
sea water absorbs red light rays completely at 30 feet deep
—as it also does yellow and orange— in fact, at over 90 feet
deep, all things become a monotonous blue-grey. Artificial
light, however, shows up all the true colors, hence those
highly colored photographs taken with flash bulbs.
Many tests were made, covering the glass knob with
different colored cellophane. Cellophane was used because
it would not disintegrate in water, and because different
colors of cellophane had widely varying properties of filter-
ing out either ultra-violet or infra-red rays. These lures were
tried in different positions in the pot, and were mounted to
be either stationary or moving. Some even had plastic fins
attached so that ocean currents would make them rock back
and forth to produce a flickering light. None of these tests
produced a lure anywhere near as good as redfish.
Next, mirrors were tried. This scheme had been tried
by LobLure, too, using a weighted, wedge-shaped wooden
block on two faces of which small hand mirrors were
mounted. The wedge shape was used to deflect the light rays
coming down from above the water so they would shoot off
parallel to the ocean floor (the angle of incidence being
equal to the angle of deflection ) . This device had been suc-
cessful once (three counters in one pot) but it had not
worked at all since then. Nor did it with these new tests,
and it could only be concluded that its one-time success was
a fluke. Every lobsterman knows that under some conditions
of hunger or curiosity a lobster will enter an unbaited pot.
Another experiment with mirrors was to put one-half a
teaspoonful of mercury in a small square glass bottle, using
just enough mercury so that the bottle would almost float
and, therefore, be moved by a very slight ocean current.
This bottle, hung in a pot, would rock back and forth slowly
flickering its reflected light. The idea was that a flickering
light is more attention getting than a stationary light ( notice
any flickering advertising sign ) .
Another trial using the mirror idea was to coat the in-
side of a glass bottle with herring-scale lacquer, the hope
being that herring scale, a natural reflector of the ocean,
might flash a light more acceptable to a lobster. It proved
A resident of Damariscotta came up with a scheme
which sounded encouraging. He used the principle of the
Geissler tube, which some of us remember from high school
physics. He had made a sealed glass globe, about three
inches in diameter, containing neon gas and about a tea-
spoon of mercury. When the globe was shaken, the move-
ment of the mercury generated static electricity, and the
electricity lit up the neon gas just as a neon sign is lit up by
current electricity. It gave a flash of orange light.
These globes were held in string bait bags and hung in
the pot. They were fished in South Bristol, and they caught
lobster equally as well as fish bait. ( The fishing was poor for
either the lights or the bait, but the results were almost the
same. ) It seemed to prove that light would attract lobsters,
but it was not practical. The tests were made in relatively
shallow water near a reef where there was great turbulence
to shake up the globes. In deeper water, where there is little
turbulence, they were not agitated enough and would not
The sealed glass globe
ABOUT LOBSTERS 87
A number of the globes were made by a glass blower.
They contained different gases and varying amounts of
mercury, in the hope that some combination might be found
that would light up with little movement; but they were not
In desperation, the investigator hunted for some means
other than ocean currents to shake the glass. In a tank test,
he tried attaching the snout of a lobster (which would be
left in the pot) by a cord to the globe. When the lobster
jerked violently backward it would produce a tiny flash in
the globe. In a pot, the light did not prove to be bright
enough to attract a lobster; and the lobster proved to tire
quickly of his backward jerking and became quiet.
Pursuing the idea of reflected light, our man next ex-
perimented with a wide variety of sheet plastic vanes to be
hung in pots. These were white, usually twisted in a shal-
low spiral, and mounted with swivels to rotate in ocean cur-
rents. Others were coated with different colors of luminous
paints such as used on lobster pot buoys. None of them was
The next experiments were made with an electric light
mounted inside of a Mason jar. The thought behind these
trials was that there might be some rays in the radium-salt
lights which were repellent to lobsters. An electric light
might not have such repellent rays. A tiny bulb was used,
of the sort used by doctors to examine the inner ear. It was
connected to flashlight batteries, and would burn for several
days. It also was ineffective.
Maine Coast Fisherman, in June 1956, carried an article
by an Orrs Island lobsterman describing his success in using
white coffee mugs as his only bait. This did not seem pos-
sible in view of the many light-reflecting tests which had
been made. But, so as not to overlook any bets, a dozen
mugs were tested— and they caught nothing.
To try a diffused instead of a concentrated light, a sil-
vered Christmas tree ball was hung in a pot. The spherical
surface reflected light in all directions from its upper hemi-
sphere. Also, and for the same purpose, white glass marbles
88 ABOUT LOBSTERS
were placed in the glass percolator tops. The radium salt
was applied to the small end of the rubber cork. Thus, the
light was reflected as diffused light by the marble rather
than striking directly into the water. No success.
As a last shot, a number of the above tests were re-
peated, using bait as well as the light. If the light and bait
together fished better than bait alone, then one could be
sure that the light was helpful. In most trials the combina-
tion caught fewer lobsters than bait alone. The best he could
do was to occasionally have the combination fish as well as
bait alone. These last tests were made with a lighted perco-
lator top secured in the small end of a sheet rubber cone.
The cone was mounted over the bait so that its light shone
on the bait, but the light source itself was invisible to a
There have been articles in newspapers telling of fish
lures which attracted through sound. To try out this idea,
and purely as a shot in the dark, a loud ticking Ingersoll
watch was placed in a Mason jar and hung in a pot— with no
results except that the jar leaked in the first test and the
watch was ruined.
There are still several entirely different approaches to
the problem of attracting lobsters. But they take time and
are often expensive.
A word of caution: be very careful how you play with
radium salts. They can and do cause cancer if improperly
handled. The girls who paint watch dials work behind glass
shields and are frequently checked by health officials.
This histoiy ends with no practical lure. It is valuable
in that it provides a starting point for further development,
and it should save needless duplicating of experiments al-
ready made. Knowledge of what not to do is often valuable.
In the history of this country, if a need is great enough,
someone has always fulfilled that need. The need for a
manufactured lobster bait is great. Someone will find the
Artificial Sea Water for Inland Tanks 1
The need for artificial sea water stems from inland
restaurants and fish dealers desiring to stock and exhibit live
lobsters. Today, lobsters are a luxury food, and if they can-
not be shown as alive much of their appeal is lost.
It would be of enormous gain to the lobster industry if
the keeping of live lobsters away from the sea should be-
come more commonplace. The scope of the market would
be tremendously increased, and would be less a matter of
feast or famine than it is today. Wherever there is competi-
tion for an article of limited supply, the price rises. Think
of what this could mean to lobstermen.
The use of artificial sea water is well known, and it is
practiced by several successful lobster dealers. It can pre-
serve lobsters just as well as natural sea water, if all the re-
quirements are met.
In order to create the best possible storage condi-
tions for live lobster, it is suggested first of all to look at
its natural habitat. The lobster lives in salt water and
can only stand a relatively small change in the salt con-
centration of the water. A concentration of about 25
per 1000 salt or more seems to be necessary for the lob-
The greater part of the year the lobster lives at
low temperatures (41°F.-50°F.) and it only seeks
warmer water (approximately 60° F.) in the short
spawning period. As the lobster eats sparsely in the
cold period of the year, it is difficult to lure it into the
lobster traps during this time.
Although the lobster requires an almost constant
salt concentration in the water, it is capable of getting
Research Bulletin No. 11 (1953) by John S. Getchell of Sea and Shore Fish-
eries is devoted to this subject. Another bulletin, " Storage of Live Lob-
sters," by F. Bramsnaes and Jan Boetius, was published in 1953 by the
Physiological Laboratory, Charlottenlund, Denmark. Its studies were made
with the English lobster, which is almost identical with the lobster of New
England and Canada.
90 ABOUT LOBSTERS
along well within a wide range of temperatures, that is,
from a few degrees up to approximately 77° F. A con-
tinuous supply of fresh oxygenous water is, however,
essential. As will be seen from the following, this in-
volves a number of technical difficulties for the fish
dealer, especially in warm weather. . . .
Salt is essential to the lobster's functions, which is
why the salt concentration in the lobster's blood has to
be constant. In sea water, the salt concentration in the
lobster's blood is approximately the same as that of the
surrounding water. If the sea water is diluted, for in-
stance by adding fresh water, the salts will be washed
out of the lobster's blood into the water. The lobster
is not capable of retaining the normal and necessary
concentration of salt in the blood.
Experiments carried out with various mixtures of
fresh water and sea water showed that the animals be-
came very feeble when the salt concentration in the
water was low (from 25 per 1000 salt down to 20 per
1000). Under such conditions, the rate of metabolism
(oxygen consumption) increased about 50 per cent,
which entails, as will be seen later on, another technical
difficulty in connection with the storage of lobster. At
even lower salt concentrations (from 20 per 1000 and
downwards), the lobster could only remain alive for a
very short time
The word " salt " as used in the foregoing should
be understood to be the mixture of mineral salts usually
present in sea water. This mixture contains apart from
ordinary salt (by technicians called sodium chloride,
ordinarily called kitchen salt or just common salt ) , also
numerous other kinds of salts, which are all more or
less vital to the growth of the lobster. Many of these
salts only appear in very small quantities in sea water.
The mixture of artificial sea water which was used
in these experiments contains five of the most important
components of natural sea water approximately in
the same concentration as in sea water. There
ABOUT LOBSTERS 91
exist various recipes for such artificial sea water. In
these experiments, two of these were examined, i.e., the
mixture of van Deurs and a mixture by Schmaltz. Al-
though both mixtures have been found satisfactory, the
one by Schmaltz is recommended, chiefly because this
mixture comes a bit closer to the composition of natural
sea water than that of van Deurs. The Schmaltz recipe
is as follows:
Sodium chloride (NaCl) 14.52 lbs.
Magnesium sulphate (MgSo 4 ,7H 2 0) 3.52 lbs.
Magnesium chloride (MgCl 2 ,6H 2 0) 2.86 lbs.
Calcium chloride (CaCl 2 ,^H 2 0) .7 lb.
Potassium chloride (KC1) .33 lb.
Total approximately 22 lbs.
The specified amounts of salt are mixed with 92
gallons ordinary drinking water [check to see that it has
not been chlorinated]. It is necessary to stir the solu-
tion at regular intervals until all the salt has been
dissolved. This process takes about two hours. The vari-
ous salts can be obtained from chemical firms and be
used successfully, although they often cause some tur-
bidity in the solution as some of the substances may not
be water soluble
All the salts, with the exception of potassium chlo-
ride, can be stored for a considerable length of time,
even when mixed, provided they are kept in a dry place.
Potassium chloride is highly water absorbent and even
in ordinary air very soon liquifies. It is therefore sug-
gested to buy this salt immediately before use and take
out only the amount needed for one mixture unless it is
kept in a tightly closed glass jar.
Apart from experiments with the above mentioned
two recipes, experiments have also been carried out
with plain water to which was added various kinds of
ordinary salts, mainly because these ordinary salts have
been used commercially in storage water with little or
92 ABOUT LOBSTERS
no success. In these experiments, the salt concentration
of the water was about 30 per 1000. It was established
that ordinary salt ( kitchen salt ) had a fatal effect on the
lobster even after only a few hours' storage in the water.
The reason for this is the lack of the other mineral salts
mentioned in the recipe.
Other products are commercially sold under trade
names and have been examined. It is true that these
salts have all been extracted from natural sea water by
evaporation, but since the various kinds of salt do not
crystallize to the same extent, the salt mixture often
varies and is very far from the composition of natural
sea water. Analyses also show considerable differences
in the composition of the mentioned salts. It should be
noted as an important fact that the calcium content of
all the mentioned products is small. Although this com-
ponent is only found in relatively small quantities in
natural sea water, it is absolutely essential to the lob-
The Sea and Shore Fisheries bulletin gives three formu-
las for artificial sea water. These formulas are more compli-
cated, but they come from The Oceans, The Chemistry and
Biology of Sea Water by Sverdrup et al, and should be
Experiments have also proved that artificial sea
water seems to be quite as useful as natural sea water.
Lobsters have easily been able to remain alive in both
kinds of water for months.
It has been maintained that the lobster once re-
moved from a storage tank containing artificial sea
water quickly becomes weak and limp; this has led to a
further examination of lobsters which had been stored
in artificial sea water for about two weeks. After being
removed from the tank, they were kept in cold, moist
air at about 50° F. They remained so for almost two
Bramsnaes and Boetius, op. cit.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 93
weeks in apparent good condition and were then trans-
ferred to the storage tank undamaged
So far, it has not been possible to point out why
the lobsters became weak when removed from the stor-
age tank as described in the experiment.
The question of how often to change the artificial
sea water depends primarily upon the type of tank used.
.... Like most living animals, the lobster is dependent
on the oxygen in the air in order to breathe. In its nat-
ural habitat, the lobster utilizes the oxygen which is
found in liberal amounts in fresh sea water.
When sea water contains as much oxygen as can
possibly be dissolved in it, it is " saturated." The amount
of oxygen dissolved in sea water depends on the tem-
perature of the water; the wanner the water, the less
oxygen it contains.
Thus, one of the greatest problems of storing live
lobsters in tanks on land for commercial purposes is the
necessity of producing the required supply of oxygen.
Because of limited space, the water content of the tank
is necessarily small in comparison to the number of lob-
sters stored, which very soon consume the supply of
oxygen on hand. If the water was not constantly sup-
plied with fresh oxygen, the lobsters would simply
choke to death. During the experiments, it has been
found that the lobsters became " lifeless " when the oxy-
gen content of the water went below approximately ]/<\
of the oxygen content of saturated water. If this " life-
less " condition has already set in, it is essential for the
lobster, in order to survive, to be supplied with fresh
water within an hour or two. The technical require-
ments of the storage tank are mainly based on the neces-
sity of a constant supply of oxygen. It should be noted
that if the supply of oxygen should fail ( for instance, in
case of a motor stop ) , it is most important to make sure
that the tank containing the lobsters is quickly emptied.
In case of a motor stop, the drainage system should
94 ABOUT LOBSTERS
The next experiments were carried out to deter-
mine the oxygen consumption of the lobster at various
temperatures. Within the examined ranges of tempera-
ture (35°F. to 86°F.), it was found that the lobster's
oxygen consumption was more than doubled if the tem-
perature was raised 50° F.
Experiments also showed that the lobster's oxygen
consumption did not change whether the animal was
placed under an intense light or in total darkness.
However, if the salt concentration of the water was
reduced to under 25 per 1000, for instance by adding
fresh water, the lobster's oxygen consumption was in-
When the lobster was fed with the meat of a her-
ring, the oxygen consumption was almost doubled. This
increase in the oxygen consumption rate was still notice-
able on the third day after the feeding. This experi-
ment, as well as the two preceding ones, was carried
out at 60°F.
These experiments also showed that small lobsters
(about J4 -pound) have a higher oxygen consumption
than larger lobsters ( 2 to 4 pounds ) . It was also found
that the oxygen consumption of a great number of lob-
sters stored together was somewhat lower per pound
per hour than that of a single lobster.
The influence of temperature on the growth of lob-
sters stored in reservoirs on land. With a view to find-
ing the most economical way of storing lobsters, it is
important that the oxygen consumption rate of the lob-
ster be kept as low as possible. The lower the con-
sumption of oxygen, the less water circulation (fresh
oxygen supply) is required in the tank. A low oxygen
consumption rate also ensures that the waste matter
within a certain storage period is small, that is, the nu-
tritious condition is not reduced a great deal. The fol-
lowing conclusions may be drawn from the above-men-
tioned experiments: by lowering the temperature, the
ABOUT LOBSTERS 95
rate of oxygen consumption is reduced very effectively.
By refrigerating the storage water, many advantages
are gained which can best be seen by comparing the
storage conditions in a tank with a temperature of about
60° F. (approximately the temperature of the surround-
ing air ) and those in a refrigerated storage tank ( about
Pollution. In an indoor, not refrigerated, storage
tank, the temperature stays around 60° F. most of the
time, though it may go higher, especially in the middle
of the lobster season where the demand for storage is at
its peak. At 60°F., the lobsters' oxygen consumption
rate is quite high, and the oxygen solubility of the
water is correspondingly low, which is why the oxygen
supply of the storage water is soon used up. A third
disadvantage of this high temperature is that the lob-
sters' oxygen consumption results in an increased pro-
duction of dung. The water soon becomes polluted,
malodorous; mucus and foam appear on the surface of
the water. These conditions seem, however, only to
have a slight poisonous effect on the lobster. This prob-
lem has been discussed extensively among specialists in
this field and thorough experiments have shown that as
long as the oxygen supply is sufficient, the animals can
live for months in relatively strong pollutions of their
own dung. It has also been important to ascertain
whether the flavor of the lobsters' meat would be af-
fected by the polluted water. Therefore, a number of
persons were served both freshly caught lobsters and
lobsters which had been stored for a long period of
time, and they were unable to detect any difference in
taste. It was found that lobsters stored up to a month
in quite strong pollutions of dung had the same taste as
that of freshly caught lobsters. However, the immediate
impression of the hygienic conditions in such a tank is
not exactly inspiring. The greatest disadvantage is that
the dung also consumes large amounts of oxygen. Con-
96 ABOUT LOBSTERS
sequently, this requires special methods for oxygen sup-
ply as well as filters and a strong water circulation. It
has been found that the dung products of a one-pound
lobster stored for about a week in 26 quarts of sea water
(which was not changed during the week) at a tem-
perature of 60° F. consumes approximately almost three
times as much as the oxygen consumption of the lobster
When the lobster has lived for some time at a high
temperature (60°F.-68°F.), its quality deteriorates. Ex-
periments have proved, however that— strangely enough
—there is almost no weight reduction in lobsters stored
up to two months
After a long period of storage, it has been experi-
enced that the texture of the meat has a tendency to
change— it becomes more "filamentous" [stringy]. It
has been discussed if it was more advantageous to feed
the animals in order to avoid this deterioration of tex-
ture; feeding can take place, as the lobsters are quite
willing to eat at high temperature. At low temperature
(for instance, 41°F. ), they refuse to eat. It is, however,
rather difficult to distribute the food evenly in a tank
containing a large amount of lobsters and the water
may become polluted in doing so. From the above-
mentioned experiments, the following conclusions can
be drawn: the oxygen consumption of a well-fed lob-
ster is doubled compared to that of an unfed lobster
stored at the same temperature. The amount of dung
products, which more or less equals the consumption of
oxygen, is estimated to be doubled, i.e., the oxygen con-
sumption of the whole system (lobster plus water) is
doubled. In addition, the left-over food also consumes
oxygen. It is, of course, impossible to give a definite
figure, but it is estimated to be quite high, judging by
the way the lobsters devour their food. When lobsters
are being fed with the meat of a herring, they tear it to
shreds which almost form a cloud around the eating
animals causing putrefaction to set in. It is, therefore,
ABOUT LOBSTERS 97
advisable not to feed the lobsters because of the very
heavy demand on the oxygen supply of the storage
Experiments have shown that a lobster can do
without food for more than three months at 60° F. Be-
cause of the already mentioned deterioration of the
meat texture, it is recommended that the lobsters
should not be stored for more than three or four weeks
under such conditions.
Finally, it can be mentioned that the lobsters show
great activity at high temperature and may easily harm
each other. If the animals appear dull at high tempera-
ture, the reason is probably lack of sufficient oxygen. 3
Sea and Shore Fisheries has undertaken to determine the
best temperature of water in which lobsters should be kept.
They used four temperature ranges, namely: 35°-40°F.;
45°-50°F. ; 55°-60°F. ; and 65°-70°F.
The activity of the lobsters was observed in each range
for five days, and from the results a temperature was chosen
at which the water was kept throughout the study. Thirty
fresh lobsters were used in each temperature range. The re-
sults obtained were as follows:
No mortality at 5 clays
No mortality at 5 days
Active to sluggish
10 dead at 5 days; all sluggish
after 3 days
Active to sluggish
20 dead after 24 hours; all dead
after 48 hours
From the results obtained, the 45°-50°F. range was
chosen as the highest temperature to be used.
8 Bramsnaes and Boetius, op. cit.
98 ABOUT LOBSTERS
This choice of temperature seems to have been chosen
because the lobsters were noticeably active. It is lower than
the 60° F. used in the Danish experiments, but it is to be
questioned if an even lower temperature (40°-45°F.) might
not be even more effective. The lobsters would eat less, they
would move about less, they are less scrappy, and there
would be less dung, all of which would reduce the all-im-
portant oxygen consumption. One objection seems to be
that they are veiy sluggish in colder water. But since a lob-
ster regains his activity when he is taken from the water ( as
when a lobster is exhibited to a buyer), its sluggishness in
the water seems a small matter. Another objection is that
48° F. is approximately the temperature of the lobster as
unpacked from an iced shipping container. Lobsters react
strongly to too abrupt changes in temperature. It is possible
to kill a lobster by increasing the temperature too quickly.
On the other hand, they react less strongly to a decrease in
As far as can be seen, the " warm " storage has no
natural advantage for the lobster. The following is a
short summary of the disadvantages:
1. The oxygen solubility of the warmer water
2. The oxygen consumption of the lobsters is
3. The amount of dung is proportionately
large and the decrease of oxygen in the water be-
comes even larger.
4. By storing the lobster over a longer period,
the texture of the meat deteriorates. Feeding is no
help as it causes a still larger decrease in the oxy-
gen supply of the tank.
5. The great activity of the lobsters is a disad-
Storage conditions at a low temperature (42° F.).
The five disadvantages found under " warm " storage
ABOUT LOBSTERS 99
conditions can all be avoided when the temperature is
1. The colder water dissolves more oxygen.
2. At 42° F. the lobster's oxygen consumption
rate is half the rate of that at 60° F.
3. As the amount of dung products is reduced,
the consumption of oxygen is also lowered.
4. The deterioration of texture is insignificant,
even when the lobsters have been stored from two
to three months. Feeding is no problem as the ani-
mals do not eat at low temperatures.
5. The activity of the animals is low— they do
not harm each other and are easy to handle. It is
desirable that the lobsters for sale show a certain
amount of vitality and it should be noted that the
cold as well as the " dull " animals become lively
when removed from the tank. 4
Supply of oxygen. The Maine experiments used two
y 2 " aerated nozzles per lobster tank. Additional aeration by
compressed air was found unnecessary as long as the recir-
culation system was in operation.
As mentioned in the description of the experiments,
the necessary oxygen supply is of the greatest impor-
tance. The oxygen in the storage water is replenished
when the oxygen of the air is forced down into the
water. This may be done by means of a pump which
continually sucks the water from the bottom of the
tank, then forces it through a sprayer and down into
the water again. When the water falls from the sprayer
down into the water, it is replenished with oxygen in
the air. Especially when the water breaks through the
surface, particles of air are forced down into the water,
which absorbs the oxygen. When the surface is smooth,
only small amounts of oxygen can penetrate it. It is,
therefore, important to create the greatest possible
movement of the water surface. In larger tanks, it is
Bramsnaes and Boetius, op. cit.
100 ABOUT LOBSTERS
often necessary to install several sprayers and the oxida-
tion of the water becomes more effective when these are
placed high above the tank. Other effective methods for
oxidizing the water are, of course, possible.
The pump used for circulating the water must have
a fixed capacity depending primarily on the number of
lobsters stored and on the temperature of the water.
The table below indicates the approximate capacities
of the pumps; at high storage temperatures (60°F. or
more), these figures may deviate. It is assumed that
the entire surface is put in motion by the pumps. 5
in the tank
41 Quarts pumped:
Maine tanks held 300 gallons and 50 pounds of lobsters.
The pump circulated 400 gallons per hour.
Foaming was a problem encountered by Maine after
the lobsters had been in the tank three days, and it lasted
from seven to twelve days. This foam was formed as the
water was discharged into the lobster tank in a soap-sudsy
mass and spread across the surface of the water in the tank.
To combat this problem, "Antifoam A," a silicone de-
foamer, was employed and found very effective at a concen-
tration of ten parts per million in dispersing the foam. This
material had no apparent adverse effect upon the lobsters
at this concentration.
According to the Danish bulletin, " The water should be
changed as soon as it becomes dark, muddy and malodorous
in spite of constant filtration. As long as the water stays
clear without much foam formation, it can be used. Normal-
ly, a change is only needed once or twice during the lob-
Bramsnaes and Boetius, op. cit.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 101
ster season, depending on the prevailing temperatures— the
cooler the water, the longer the lobsters will keep." This is
more often than the once a year Maine recommends, but
these Danish experiments circulated much less water.
Filtration is an important part of processing artificial
sea water. It was considered essential to the commercial
lobster aquariums which have been promoted. Removal of
fish dung is believed to be very important in goldfish tanks,
and perhaps salt water snails in a lobster aquarium would
clean the water as they are supposed to do in goldfish tanks.
Yet the Danish experiments clearly show that strong
pollutions of dung do not affect the lobsters so long as
enough oxygen is present. In contradiction, it is believed by
many lobster dealers that the dung of lobsters can kill other
lobsters lying in the lower layers in a shipping container.
This is a reason for keeping freshly caught lobsters in a
tank for at least one day so that their bowels may be
Dr. Thomas in his " Lobster Storage " says:
When lobsters have been in air, as when travelling,
the dung builds up inside of them. In summer this ac-
cumulation may be considerable. The dung will be
thrown off when the lobsters are put into water. In
consequence, if possible, lobsters should not be put
into re-circulating water after travelling but first given
an hour or so in fresh sea water. (Such treatment is
hardly possible in inland installations. ) A weak lobster
stands a better chance of survival if it is lowered slowly
into the water tail first so that the water can flood
gently through the gill chamber, thereby avoiding air
Maine used a cloth filter of Lumite, a plastic cloth with
36 threads to the inch and a porosity of .008 inches. It did
not filter out much of the suspended matter. Enough re-
mained to give a slight turbidity to the water.
8 Published by the Marine Laboratory, Aberdeen, Scotland.
102 ABOUT LOBSTERS
Feeding. It has been shown that lobsters can do with-
out food for more than three months at 60° F., and at low
temperatures refuse to eat. Maine noted that for the first
two or three days after lobsters were put into refrigerated
artificial sea water, they would feed, but after that period
they refused all food. They reported that the reason for this
behavior was unknown. Perhaps the chilling of the lobsters
and loss of appetite is a slower process than realized and
the lowering of oxygen consumption is very gradual.
Acclimatization. The Canadian " Atlantic Biological
Station Note No. 137," states: "Lobster: take longer to be-
come acclimated than you might expect. If the salt content
or the amount of dissolved oxygen is suddenly reduced, it
takes the lobsters about a week to become acclimated. It
takes even longer to acclimate to changing water tempera-
tures. If, for example, lobsters are caught in deep, cool
water (50°F.) and held in warm water (65°F. ), they will
not become fully acclimated to the warmer water for at
least three weeks." A similar danger occurs when lobsters
are taken from a refrigerated truck and plunged into the
warmed summer water of a pound. Lobsters which have be-
come warmed in transit ( the baskets of caught lobsters in a
fisherman's boat) should not be immediately plunged into
very cold sea water. A shallow warmer pool as a vestibule to
the main pound might be the answer.
The tank system. The tank is commonly made of wood,
but concrete tanks will serve. After a concrete tank has been
cast, it should be filled with a soda solution for several days.
Then it should be emptied, rinsed well, and scrubbed.
It is essential to take care that the lobsters are not ex-
posed to some poisonous materials. Certain metals— even in
small amounts— have a dangerous effect. Copper and copper
alloys, e.g. brass, must be completely avoided when the tank
is built. Zinc and lead, galvanized materials, or materials
containing lead are also poisonous and must, therefore, not
come in contact with the lobsters or the storage water.
Aluminum, iron, and rust are not harmful to the animals.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 103
If the coils of the refrigeration unit are copper, they
can be coated with plastic paint, but plastic is a poor con-
ductor of heat. A black colored plastic is preferable to the
semi-transparent variety, since the latter allows the growth
of algae. Stainless steel is the best, but it should be free
from copper. Some brands are not.
As to size, the general rule in Denmark is that 22
pounds of lobster require 26 to 40 gallons of storage water.
The Maine recommendation is that 2 gallons of water be
allowed for each pound of lobsters.
Every tank should have a drainage plug. Lobsters will
not live long if their water ceases to circulate, but they will
live in the air so long as the tissue of their lungs is kept
moist, and they are cool enough (about two weeks). In
case of failure of the circulating pump, the tank must be
drained at once.
The Danish article sums up by stating that the correct
" artificial sea water can fully replace natural sea water."
The conclusions of the Maine tests are:
1. That lobsters were able to live in recirculated
natural sea water for a period of seven days without any
appreciable mortality, and for fourteen days with very
2. That with the addition of fresh lobsters this
cycle could be repeated using the same water for a
year's time, provided that the specific gravity was kept
3. That artificial sea water compared very favorably
with natural sea water under the conditions of the ex-
4. That within the limits already stated, it is feasi-
ble to handle lobsters commercially in such a system.
Notice that an artificial sea water solution being the
equal of actual sea water does not mean that lobsters will
not die in such captivity; they will and they do in tanks sup-
plied with plenty of fresh sea water.
The following graph from Sea and Shore Fisheries Bulle-
tin 11 shows the death rate in fresh natural sea water. No
lobsters died in the first seven days. But thereafter the
death rate rose somewhat until after twelve days the mor-
tality sharply increased. All fifty lobsters in the test were
dead in thirty-two days. The water was cooled to 45°-50°F.
The bulletin of Sea and Shore Fisheries (1960) "The
Storage of Live Lobsters in Reeirculated-Refrigerated
Tanks," by Phillip L. Goggins, corroborates many of the facts
given above. Its formula for artificial sea water is the same
Showing the Death Rate in
Fresh Natural Sea Water
15 20 25
Number of Trial Days
ABOUT LOBSTERS 105
as the one given here. In addition, this bulletin gives this
The optimum for salinity for lobsters is from 2.9
to 3.5%. The salinity of the Schmaltz formula is 3.4 per
cent. Before placing lobsters in the solution, check with
your local water department to see whether there is
any residual chlorine in the water. Chlorine is toxic to
lobsters at .1 part per million. This can be corrected,
if it exists, by passing the water through an activated
charcoal filter or by recirculating the water for two
Only vigorous lobsters should be stored in recir-
culated systems. Generally, it is not difficult to obtain
such lobsters during the cold months. However, during
the period of July through October, one cannot depend
upon receiving vigorous lobsters. During this period
many of the lobsters have recently passed through the
enervating moulting process. Furthermore, they are
much more likely to have been exposed to adverse con-
ditions of crowding and high temperatures during the
pre-shipment storage. They should be carefully graded
with only the most lively-appearing chosen for ship-
ment. They should be packed and handled as care-
fully as if they were eggs.
Even with such care during the July to October
period, loss will sometimes occur, but without careful
treatment during this period, serious loss is almost cer-
tain to occur. Therefore, it is essential to find a firm
which specializes in supplying lobsters to recirculating
systems. There are several in Maine. The names of
these can be obtained from the Department of Sea and
The excellent " do's " and " don'ts " from this bulletin
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The DO's and DO NOT's of Profitably Operating a
Recirculated-Ref rigerated Lobster Storage System
i. Do obtain lobsters from dealers
who cull and condition lobsters
during preshipment storage, and
protect them adequately during
2. Do select safe construction ma-
terial for components of system.
Safe metals— zinc, stainless steel
3. Do select a pump of adequate
size and of safe material.
4. Do consult refrigeration engineer
for size of refrigeration unit.
5. Do give preference to new equip-
ment over second-hand, especially
6. Do protect lobsters from direct
contact with cooling surfaces.
7. Do maintain the filter.
8. Do plan your particular needs so
you can determine accurately the
size of system required.
9. Do change water when there is
excessive foaming, water becomes
foul smelling, or unsightly. Four
teaspoons olive oil added drop by
drop will temporarily correct
10. Do be careful about sanitation.
11. Do remove lobster fragments, etc.
from system as soon as possible.
12. Do check salt content of water
13. Do temper the lobsters to ap-
proximate the temperature of the
2. Do not use copper or copper al-
loys or lead-base paints.
Do not use pump with bronze
Do not use high speed jet pumps,
or reduce pipe size on positive
side of pump [gas poisoning].
Do not overcrowd lobsters. Two
gallons water to one pound lob-
ster considered best ratio.
10. Do not feed lobsters.
11. Do not use aerosol insecticides in
vicinity of tanks. (What will kill
a fly, will kill a lobster much
108 ABOUT LOBSTERS
Availability of Equipment. There are a number of firms
which supply the whole equipment for artificial sea-water
storage. One firm in Haverhill is expanding its sales into the
middle west. It provides:
1. The tanks equipped with non-metallic piping
2. The refrigerator whose cooling coils are iron ra-
ther than copper
3. A filter system consisting of a wooden trough in
which are laid batts of fibre glass, the same as used in
insulating a house
4. The various salts composing its secret formula
for sea water.
A user of this installation reports that its losses of lob-
sters are, if anything, slightly less than with natural sea
water. They change the filters once a week (their water is
pronouncedly murky) and the water once every three
months. They use ordinary tap water for the mix.
The cost of an installation of a capacity of 9,000 gallons
is in the neighborhood of $10,000. The charge for a new
mixture of salts is approximately $120 (every three months).
A pound, as referred to here, means a cove, dammed off
from the sea, into which the tide ebbs and flows.
Lobster pounds came into general use after canning of
lobsters was forbidden in Maine. A surplus of lobsters which
formerly could be handled by canning had to be preserved
by other means, and pounds were the answer.
This seasonal increase in the catch of lobsters is strik-
ing. Most Canadian lobsters are imported during the
months of May and June, while the Maine landings are prin-
cipally in August and September. Together, Canadian im-
ports and Maine landings result in a peak supply during the
period from May to September. An additional need for
pounds is caused by the summer shedding season when
soft-shelled lobsters are unattractive as food, and have high
mortality in shipping.
Today, tidal pounds represent over two-thirds of the
Maine live-lobster storage facilities, and are the best means
for holding lobsters for several months without high mor-
The New England coast south of Cape Elizabeth
(Portland) lacks a highly indented coast line and protective
islands. This fact and the relatively small catch of lobsters
means that the southerly coast is not suited to construction
and use of tidal pounds. Practically all such pounds are
located between eastern Casco Bay and Jonesport, with
concentrations being generally located in the Boothbay,
Bristol and Friendship areas.
A pound will be filled with hard-shell lobsters when
lobsters first become active in the spring and when
Canadian imports are at their peak. Care must then be
taken that the lobsters are taken out before the summer
moulting time, for many captive lobsters that shed their
shells are eaten by their companions. Pounding delays
110 ABOUT LOBSTERS
the moult by several weeks by which time they com-
mand a premium over the newly-shed lobsters that are
being caught. After the hard-shelled lobsters have been
removed, the softer, newly-moulted lobsters from the
landings are released in the pound. These lobsters
harden as the summer progresses, and withstand the
rigors of shipment better. During the summer, a pound
may be almost continuously stocked and emptied, de-
pending upon sales, landings, and condition of the
In anticipation of the high prices prevailing in mid-
winter when landings fall to a very low point, lobster
pounds are stocked to capacity in late summer or early
fall when the combination of peak landings and dwin-
dling markets result in the lowest prices of the year. Oc-
casionally, a lapse in production results in a short pe-
riod of high prices in late fall, at which time some
pounds may be emptied to be refilled when the price
drops again. Generally such a sharp fluctuation is
caused by a stormy period which prevents fishing. 1
It is obvious that a pound owner who can buy lobsters
at a low price and hold them until the price is high will
make a good deal of money.
But there are handicaps to an easy profit. In the first
place, pounds are expensive to build. They cost $2,500 and
up. Then the capital tied up in stocking a pound is consider-
able ( perhaps 30,000 pounds at 70 cents per pound ) .
And will the market rise to a price higher than the cost?
But the greatest gamble depends on the mortality of the
A loss of only 3 per cent is claimed by some pound
owners, but this is unusual, and 10 to 15 per cent loss is
about normal. Unfortunately, losses can run above 30 per
cent, and sometimes the entire contents of the pound are
lost. These heavy losses seem to run in epidemics.
1 From Robert L. Dow, Donald M. Harriman, and Leslie W. Scattergood,
" The Role of Holding Pounds in the Maine Lobster Industry " (Fish and
Wildlife Service Bulletin No. 5), which has been used in preparation of
ABOUT LOBSTERS 111
The common causes of high pound losses are:
1. Overcrowding of the pound
2. Feeding putrid bait
3. Red Tail disease 2
4. Shell disease
5. Weak lobsters
6. Wrong salinity and temperature of water
The first two causes can be readily overcome, but Red
Tail is more serious, and there are other causes which lob-
ster biologists have not been able to diagnose. Severe winter
mortalities can occur when neither Red Tail nor Shell Dis-
ease can be detected.
On the whole, it might seem as though sloppy pound-
keeping is responsible for high losses. Such is not the case.
The most scrupulously tended pound may be infected with
Red Tail; and of two adjoining pounds under the same own-
ership one may be cursed with a 30 per cent loss and the
other with a 5 per cent loss.
Careful poundkeepers keep their pounds clean, and
when they are empty of lobsters rake up all residue of bait,
and even remove dead seaweed. But that is not enough. To-
day ( 1960 ) , Sea and Shore Fisheries furnish men to direct
the chlorination of a pound. This treatment disinfects the
surface scum of the floor of the pound. It is this scum which
carries most of the bacteria of Red Tail and other diseases.
The chlorine is in the form of pellets which are scattered
about two feet apart over the mud of the empty pound. The
pound owner pays the cost of the pellets and furnishes the
men to spread them. A pound of 35,000 to 40,000 pounds
capacity of lobster will require four drums of chlorine at
$40.00 per drum. Some poundkeepers chlorinate twice dur-
ing the season, especially in times of threatened epidemic of
Flushing out the objectionable scum with a high pres-
sure hose as a means of reducing bacteria is not recom-
mended, at least not until after chlorination. The contam-
2 See page 29.
112 ABOUT LOBSTERS
inated scum would merely be washed into the harbor and
could possibly spread the disease.
The bacteria of Red Tail is also present in bait barrels.
This suggests that bait barrels should be chlorinated and
well flushed out after each use.
Overcrowding. The capacity of a pound may not be
the same from one year to the next. You cannot say that
because you successfully stocked 40,000 pounds of lobster
last year you can do it again this year. Variations in water
temperature and in cleanliness of the pound determine its
capacity. Most operators would have less mortality if they
would use the available information on capacity as gov-
erned by sanitation.
Weak lobsters. An important factor is the vigorousness
of the lobsters to be pounded. A pound located where lob-
sters can be bought directly from the fishermen usually fares
better than if the lobsters have to be brought in by truck.
In trucking, the lobsters are always crowded in crates and
usually exposed to high temperatures. 3
Salinity and temperature of water. Fish and Wildlife
Except as it affects the lobsters' tolerance to high
water temperatures and dissolved oxygen depletion,
salinity does not seem to be a major problem in most
pounds. The volume of fresh water required to reduce
the salinity of the lobster pound to the danger point is
more than is usually available. Occasionally, however,
enough fresh water will flow over the top of a pound,
sweeping away the higher layers of sea water, so that
there is insufficient oxygen in the residual layer of sea
water to support the lobsters. In this case, mortality is
directly due to smothering. Specific gravity affords a
ready means for making an approximate estimate of
salinity ( as the hydrometer used by auto service stations
to test the specific gravity of storage battery solutions ) .
3 See Acclimatization, page
ABOUT LOBSTERS 113
Since, however, density varies also with temperature,
account has to be taken of this factor in making cal-
Water temperatures appear to be a limiting factor
in the Casco Bay area in Maine, and establish the west-
ern limit of lobster pounding. Here water temperatures
rise to 65° F. or higher, and the commercial storage of
lobsters becomes difficult.
Pounded lobsters are usually fed, although they
may go for several months in winter without feeding.
Unfed, they lose weight, and cannibalism becomes
more troublesome. Redfish racks [the scrap left after
the fish are filleted] and herring are the most popular
foods. Trash fish [not suitable for eating] may also be
used. The amount of food given can be quite critical.
If more is provided than the lobsters can eat, the re-
sulting putrefaction consumes oxygen and may release
toxic products. Food requirements vary with season
and condition of lobsters; therefore, most poundkeepers
provide just enough food so that none is left after twen-
ty-four hours. 4
A general rule is one bushel of feed per week per
one thousand pounds of lobsters.
Location of pound. The location of a pound should pref-
erably be a natural habitat of lobsters. A rocky shore is pre-
ferred, since the problem of silt is then reduced. A pound
shaped like a finger extending inland from the sea is not
desirable. Dr. Thomas states, " In such a pound, there is a
tendency for the water which remains at low tide to be
pushed to the landward end of the pound on flood tide, re-
turning with the ebb, so that replenishment of the storage
water is incomplete. This problem is particularly acute at the
end farthest from the open sea." 5
4 Dow, Harriman, and Scattergood, op. cit.
6 H. J. Thomas, " Lobster Storage."
114 ABOUT LOBSTERS
British practices. Some pounds in Britain recognize the
desire of lobsters to avoid light by providing shade through
awnings in the water. The awnings are wooden platforms
mounted about nine feet from the bottom of the pound, and
the area so shaded is about one-third the total pound area.
It must be difficult to recover the pounded lobsters if the
awnings are fixed— the British often recover their lobsters
by trapping them with baited scoops or pots, or by operators
dressed in rubber suits working a push net. But if the awn-
ings were floating rafts, they could be moved about to per-
mit dragging. British pounds sometimes provide " hides "
for lobsters on the bottom. These consist of stone slabs
resting on bricks 4 to 6 inches off the bottom, and re-
sembling a small bench seat.
In several Scottish pounds, a hospital tank is provided
for weak lobsters. Fresh sea water is pumped into it at a
rate to provide a complete change of tank water every hour.
This tank is 19 feet by l l / 2 feet by 1 foot depth of water.
Air is provided by a compressor, and is diffused into the
water below a false bottom.
In " Lobster Storage " ( published by The Scottish
Home Department ) , it is noted that " the initial few days of
storing are the most dangerous since the lobsters are adjust-
ing, and are restless and more liable to fight over food and
attack lobsters which are added. The latter are often some-
what weakened by travelling. If the claws are not secured,
lobsters should be first accommodated in a section hived off
from the main body. After a few days, during which the
lobsters will settle, the separating partition can be re-
Shipping of Lobsters
The common container for shipping lobsters is a wooden
barrel having a wooden box, or small keg, inside the barrel
to hold the lobsters. Wet seaweed is packed with the lob-
sters, and the spaces around the inner wooden box are filled
with crushed ice. The inner box should be reasonably water-
tight so that the melting ice cannot drip fresh water onto
the lobsters, killing them. Occasionally a customer specifies
that the cover of the inside keg be waterproof to prevent
Rail Express. The express shipping of live lobsters is
said to have originated by the desire of William Randolph
Hearst to serve lobsters at his mansion in Colorado.
It is done successfully if the lobsters are carefully se-
lected to be vigorous, and if provision is made by the express
company to re-ice the container during transit. Care must
be taken to place the ice either below the bed of lobsters or
in the ice compartments surrounding them. Melting ice on
top of them would drip fresh water onto the lobsters, killing
Today, several firms specialize in shipping live lobsters
by Railway Express as far as the West Coast. Their guaran-
tee that they will arrive alive or your money back covers an
Saltwater Farm of Maine has kindly furnished the
We are pioneers in the business of guaranteeing
lobsters to arrive alive or your money back, and report
that our losses average 1 per cent or slightly less. There
are variations from year to year depending upon rail
strikes, and severe weather.
Live lobsters travel in Railway Express service
under the live animal rate, which is, briefly stated, 150
per cent of first class rate billed in a 20-pound mini-
116 ABOUT LOBSTERS
mum. Originally, Railway Express re-iced every 24
hours in transit, as needed, as a service within the pre-
mium rate. Re-icing charges were granted by the
I. C. C. in 1956 and are assessed on the basis of net
weight times distance traveled. Re-icing is charged by
Railway Express Agency whether it is performed or
not. On a winter's day, with insulated truck service to
Boston and refrigerator service to Chicago, it is unlikely
that re-icing is performed.
Railway Express Agency by no means guarantees
replacement. Every claim is an individual fight, and
every possible bit of small print in the I. C. C. Tariff
Regulations is used to avoid payment of claims.
The number of false claims is negligible. In the
first place, we refund promptly and in the event of a
false claim this is embarrassing to the claimant. Rail-
way Express, in its zeal to avoid payment of claims, in-
vestigates extremely thoroughly, and our own records
are kept so that we can detect someone who requests
replacement or refund more than once.
We ship very little to New England where lobsters
are readily available, although we have a number of
faithful customers even on Cape Cod and Nantucket
who prefer our lobsters and our method of packing
We use the same sizes of container for the lobsters
and clams, but use several different sizes of barrel. Dis-
tant shipments use large barrels with considerably more
Our business is not seasonal. We ship every day of
the year except Sundays. Because our containers are
eminently adaptable to outdoor cooking and eating,
there is an increase of business during the summer. The
differential is none the less narrowing as the market
spreads through the south and west. As an example,
we can cite the month of March 1960, which, despite
the bad weather in the vertical middle of the country,
showed volume comparable to October and November.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 117
This should also be true of April. We of course have
brief peaks of volume at Christmas and particularly at
New Year's Eve.
We handle shedding season by buying lobsters
with a good shell on them to the extent possible, in the
early part of the season from the areas where shedding
has not yet reached, and in the latter part of the season
from areas where shedding took place early. Lobsters
with inadequate shell are culled out and pounded for
shipment when their shell has been restored.
We feed our pounded lobsters herring and redfish
racks [scrap]. When the water temperature lowers the
lobster's appetite to zero, we cease feeding.
With our method of packing for cooking, wherein
the customer need never touch the lobsters until they
are ready to serve, we need to plug but one claw for pro-
tection of lobsters from their buddies.
Dry ice is much too cold to use as a refrigerant for
lobsters. It freezes and kills them. Its staying power is
relatively short and not suitable for shipments of any
distance. When it evaporates, it releases about thirty
times its volume in the form of carbon dioxide gas
which kills the lobsters if the freezing does not. (Note:
the intense cold cracks polyethylene wrappers, if used. )
We do ship by air. We do so when rail service is
inadequate. Some of the places to which we have ship-
ped where this is the case are Antwerp, Paris, Zurich,
Caracas, Havana, Bermuda, Honolulu and Alaska. The
percentage is small, as can be adduced by populations
and income levels at such points.
We have never had a lobster shed during shipment,
although we have had a few females that egged out.
Shedding is an athletic business that takes place at
fairly high temperatures in an unrestricted area. The
lobster hasn't room to shed in a container; the cold in-
We don't know whether smaller lobsters stand
travelling better than larger ones. We suspect that this
118 ABOUT LOBSTERS
is so, but we suspect it inferentially in that youth is
better able to stand the stress than age.
This business was started in 1949 with a capital of
$730.00, and today (1959) the sales of its products
amount to about $500,000.
Trucking. Truck shipment of lobsters is not new. Only
a few comments are of value.
The use of refrigerated trucks can be dangerous if the
temperature of the truck body should become low enough
to freeze and, of course, kill the cargo. Specify that it does
not fall below 40° F. A cargo of lobsters packed in ice in an
ordinary truck arrives in better shape than a refrigerated
truck without ice. The melting ice provides moisture in the
air which aids in keeping the lungs of the lobsters moist.
The shipping of lobsters in open crates in a refrigerated
truck is dangerous. The air flowing from the refrigerating
unit through the openings between the slats of the crates
dries out the lobsters and causes high mortality. It is essen-
tial to use barrels or boxes which are not open-sided.
Shipments of a full load of lobsters (a small truck if
necessary), and on a nonstop run, arrive much better than
when the truck must stop frequently to pick up other cargo.
Runs under such conditions as far away as Memphis, Ten-
nessee, arrive with no loss in the cargo.
Air express. Most of this section has been contributed
by Brooks-Sprague Corporation, of Massachusetts, who are
credited with being the pioneer in air shipment of lobsters
Our first container was a galvanized can with
cover, but these were not satisfactory, so we switched
to a corrugated box with a rubber liner which was re-
turnable. Some newcomers in the field tried to ship
with a cheaper package that was not leakproof . One of
these shipments leaked so badly that the liquid ran
through the plane and when it reached the cold air
froze controls and wiring on the plane. We don't know
just what the damages amounted to, but it was a very
ABOUT LOBSTERS 119
expensive proposition, and the airlines clamped em-
bargoes on all lobster shipments. [American Airlines
reported $20,000 damage.] Capital Airlines will still
not carry lobsters.
We finally came up with a package that was ac-
ceptable with the airlines, but was far from ideal from
the shipper's standpoint. The airlines would not accept
responsibility if they were less than seventy-two hours
late in delivery, and this carton could not keep lobsters
alive for that length of time.
As far as we know, the only requirements of the
airlines is a nonleaking package. Some dealers are cut-
ting corners in trying to reduce the cost of the package
and we are afraid we will be faced with another em-
bargo very soon when one of these cartons falls apart
and leaks all over the plane.
We ship all over the country and the furthest points
would be Vancouver, B. C; Portland, Oregon; Los An-
geles and San Francisco, California; Houston, Dallas,
Corpus Christi and Galveston, Texas. Our percentage
of loss since we reopened has been less than 1 per cent,
but this is due to the care we take rather than the per-
fection of the carton.
We use ice with a chemical additive which is seal-
ed in a polyethylene bag and leakproof.
As stated previously, the airlines will not accept
responsibility under seventy-two hours, which is why
we must have a better package. On rare occasions,
weather conditions may force the plane to take on addi-
tional fuel somewhere along the way and the lobsters
may be unloaded to make room for this additional
weight. We have been fortunate in this respect, but
with this possibility facing us we must find some way
to protect each and every shipment.
The present container is almost airtight and the
lobsters do suffer from lack of oxygen, which is a prob-
lem we are hoping to overcome with our new package.
Lobsters are mostly carried in the baggage compart-
120 ABOUT LOBSTERS
ment or belly of the plane and as these are pressurized
the altitude does not affect the lobsters too much. We
do, however, have a new problem with the jet flights.
On a recent jet flight shipment, the pilot took the plane
to 30,000 feet to avoid poor weather; the temperature in
the belly was down to minus thirty degrees, and the lob-
sters arrived badly.
Strange though it may seem, there are actually
some cities in the country where we can ship by air
cheaper than by rail. This is due mostly to the sharp
drop in rates when you reach the hundred pound level.
We would think, however, that air charges would aver-
age ten to fifteen per cent higher than railway charges.
We ship Canadian lobsters whenever they are
available in preference to the Maine lobsters as they
are stronger, harder shelled, and more fully meated. As
a general rule, these lobsters will cost us more than the
Maine lobster, but they are worth it. The lobsters are
usually plugged by the fishermen as they catch them
and we prefer to have both claws plugged so they will
not damage each other.
No full place loads are required except when we
have them flown to us from Newfoundland, at which
time full or half loads of thirteen thousand or sixty-five
hundred pounds is a minimum. The airlines will accept
single packages, which usually are carried by passenger
planes, although some are carried by air freighters.
Lobsters are shipped year-round but naturally we
have better results in the winter and spring when the
lobsters are in their best condition and cooler weather
prevails. We concentrate mostly on smaller accounts
which permit us a higher margin of profit.
There is only a cursory examination by the airlines
to make sure the carton will not come apart in transit.
We are very particular in the accounts we accept and
accept the customer's word if he has any fault to find
with the shipment. As we have yet to receive any false
ABOUT LOBSTERS 121
claims, we believe we are doing a fine job in selecting
Our insulated air packages hold fifty pounds of
live lobsters, which must be considered a minimum
order. Live lobsters are sized from one to five pounds
Consolidated Lobster Company also reports on air ship-
The airplane companies will assume responsibility
for loss of lobsters if the plane is forced down from
mechanical failure, but not if due to an unscheduled
landing due to weather. As a result, we watch the
weather reports before shipping. If the weather is bad
either at Boston or on the route, we delay shipping.
About 10 per cent of our shipments of lobsters are
We no longer use a canned refrigerant. It was too
bulky and heavy. We now use the plastic bag contain-
ing ice and a chemical powder which lowers the tem-
perature of the ice to 0°F.
Our air shipments are mostly to Florida and west
of the Mississippi River.
The loss in weight which always occurs in any method
of shipping lobsters is due to the drainage of water from the
gill chambers of the lobsters. This lost weight is recovered
if they are stored in sea water after arrival.
The lobster industry owes much to American Airlines
for its pioneering of air shipments. This company is usually
credited with developing in conjunction with box manufac-
turers the modern corrugated-board waterproof container.
American Airlines also promoted the sale of air-shipped
lobsters to restaurants on the West Coast, offering them in a
freshness never before possible.
Packing with Shavings. Several years ago, two Belgian
seafood importers introduced the scheme of packing lob-
122 ABOUT LOBSTERS
sters for shipment in dry wood shavings used under, over,
and surrounding the lobsters. This was in place of the time-
honored barrels with ice and seaweed. The saving in weight
was phenomenal ( 50 pounds of lobsters packed the old way
weighed 140 versus 58 pounds when packed with shavings ) .
This packaging has not come into general use, probably be-
cause it does not preserve the lobsters well in summer,
though it does suffice in the colder wintertime.
It is a real nuisance to remove the shavings.
Another experiment in shipping was to seal the live lob-
ster in a transparent plastic bag into which some kind of gas
had been introduced. The nature of the gas has not been
learned, but it maintained the lobster alive though in sus-
pended animation as if it were sleeping. When released
from the bag the lobster (one test) appeared lively and was
of good flavor. Apparently this process has been dropped.
Preservation of Lobster Meat
Freezing. The freezing of live lobsters and shipping
them frozen and whole has been tried in several Maine
ports. It has not been successful.
It is claimed that the taste of frozen lobsters is not the
same as live lobsters; that even boiled lobsters which have
then been frozen for shipment are not as good as freshly
In at least one case, the lobsters were not deeply frozen
quickly enough. Quick freezing is the backbone of the
Birdseye process, and results in the cells of vegetables not
being burst by the freezing but retaining their structure and
flavor. Another difficulty in any frozen lobster is that it be-
comes very brittle so that it is almost impossible to maintain
the claws attached to the body. One lobster firm broke the
arms away and shipped the body in a tray with the claws
lying alongside. It did not look like a lobster and had less
The Maine Agricultural Experiment Station found:
1. That meat sticks to the shell, and is difficult to
remove in lobsters which have been frozen without any
2. That lobsters which have been " heat treated "
before freezing by steam cooking for seventy seconds at
195° F. can be readily shucked out of the shell, yet the
color of the shell remains green or black. The cooking
affects only the surface of the meat; the interior is still
3. That when lobsters are cooked at 212° F. for one
minute or more before freezing, their color changes to
orange or the familiar red of a cooked lobster. They
have lost the green or black color of live lobsters.
The 195° F. cooking for seventy seconds was found to
be the best treatment. The meat was easily removed from
124 ABOUT LOBSTERS
both claws and tail. The tail curled up tightly and was
springy. It was frozen at -20° F. for forty-eight hours.
Similarly, complete lobsters were cooled at 60° F. after
heat treatment and then frozen at -30° F. for twenty-four
hours. Before storage they were given a glaze of a spray
After three months' storage at -20°F., all samples except
those completely cooked prior to freezing had good texture
and flavor, and compared very favorably with freshly cooked
lobster. The meat from claws that had been completely
cooked prior to freezing was found to be fibrous and mealy
in texture, and possessed a flavor inferior to that of fresh-
cooked lobster meat. The tail section alone, either heat-
treated or completely cooked and treated in 2 per cent salt
brine, had a longer storage life than the whole lobster. 1
Anti-biotics. In the March 17, 1956, issue of The Saturday
Evening Post appeared an article " New Ways to Keep Food
It tells of a refrigerated truckload with carcasses of
thirty freshly killed steers to be trucked three hundred miles
to Santiago, Cuba. While still two hundred miles away, the
truck and its refrigerating unit broke down. It stayed by the
side of the road all the first night, all the second day in the
blazing sun, and the second night and most of the third day.
Upon arrival it was, of course, expected that all of the meat
would be putrid. And half of it was, but the fifteen car-
casses of the other half were good, and surprisingly fresh.
These fifteen steers had been injected with an anti-biotic
(aureomycin) solution (only a few parts per million) im-
mediately after slaughtering. (In later tests the injection
came before slaughtering.) This chemical was developed
largely through Dr. Hugh Tarr, at the Pacific Fisheries Ex-
perimental Station, in a search for a preservative for fish.
Aureomycin was mixed in tiny amounts in the water to be
frozen into ice and flaked for packing. A whole, ungutted
fish was packed in this ice, and at the end of twelve days
See " Processing Lobster and Lobster Meat for Freezing and Storage " (Btd-
ABOUT LOBSTERS 125
was beautiful and edible. (Untreated fish at 40° F. was sus-
picious after three days, and reeked after five. )
Gutted chickens have been similarly treated with equal-
ly astonishing results. Notice that, while the steers were
treated by pumping the anti-biotic through their blood ves-
sels, both the fish and the chickens received their treatment
from the outside and from the crushed ice. It is surprising
how the chemical penetrated through the scales of the fish.
The benefits of anti-biotic treatment to lobster will be
great when it can be accomplished.
Experiments in Canada were tried by immersing for a
half-hour in an ice-cold anti-biotic solution whole lobsters
as they came from the cooker. With a strong solution, lob-
sters were kept fresh to sixteen days while the untreated or
control lobsters were spoiled on the eleventh day. Another
gain is that such treated boiled lobsters could be shipped
refrigerated by dry ice. Dry ice vapors (CO2) will kill a
living lobster. Compared with ice for refrigerant this would
be a reduction in weight, and a reduction of damage from
the spilling of the melted ice water ( especially for airplane
shipment ) .
The experiments on treated steers and chickens have
been made on degutted animals, but it is not practical to
degut a lobster. Experiments have been conducted at the
plant of Consolidated Lobster Company to find a way to
make the anti-biotic reach all through a lobster including
its gut. The obvious approach is to inject the chemical into
the blood stream of the living lobster, to be carried to all
parts of its body. Injecting by a hypodermic needle is im-
practical, so the experiment was made by coating lobster
plugs with aureomycin either as a powder stuck on with
molasses (air dried) or with a very strong solution. The
lobsters were killed by steam after allowing twenty minutes
for the blood to circulate. Steam was used because it will
kill the lobster without cooking it, and heating the anti-biotic
will largely destroy its effectiveness. The lobster had to be
killed since its normal bowel movement would eliminate the
chemical after a few days.
126 ABOUT LOBSTERS
Live lobsters were also immersed in tanks filled with a
solution of anti-biotic in the hope that it would be absorbed
through the lobster's shell, or its mouth. They were similarly
killed by steam.
Untreated control lobsters were also killed, and both
kinds stored on ice. There was no appreciable difference in
keeping qualities between the two kinds. It appeared as
though the anti-biotic had not penetrated.
Aureomycin has yet to be approved for lobsters by the
Food and Drug Administration. It has been approved for
chickens, and it now seems probable that it will be approved
for all creatures which are to be cooked, as cooking removes
even traces of the anti-biotic.
Freeze Drying. In Time of May 20, 1957, appeared an
article on a new method of preserving food. 2
Dehydrated foods, never much admired, may be
headed for kitchen fame. This week Dr. A. Copson of
Raytheon Manufacturing Co. showed dried shrimp, lob-
ster tails, strawberries, etc., that actually taste fresher
than many fresh ones.
A Raytheon dried shrimp is no shriveled, leathery
remnant. It is nearly as big as a fresh peeled shrimp
and made of a strange, brittle material with the con-
sistency of popcorn or puffed cereal. Taken out of an
airtight plastic envelope, it smells like raw shrimp, and
its color is about the same. When one of these brittle
ghosts is dropped into tepid water, it softens quickly
and swells a little. After half an hour of soaking and two
minutes in boiling water, the shrimp is firm, sweet and
tastes like a shrimp that has been carefully preserved
Dr. Copson explained that it is all done by freeze-
drying. When a material that contains water is frozen
and placed in a vacuum chamber, the ice crystals in it
sublime, i.e., turn directly into water vapor without
melting to water. Pharmaceutical manufacturers use
2 Reprinted through courtesy of Time ( (c) Time, Inc., 1957)
ABOUT LOBSTERS 127
freeze-drying to preserve sensitive drugs, but the proc-
ess is difficult and it had never been successfully
adapted to low-cost materials like foods. Another diffi-
culty is that a considerable amount of heat (heat of
sublimation) is required to evaporate the ice crystals.
This heat must reach the center of the material, and in
the case of most foods the evaporation of crystals near
the surface forms a layer of corklike stuff that is an ex-
cellent insulator. It keeps heat of sublimation from
reaching the interior unless the surface temperature is
raised so high that the food spoils.
Raytheon gets around this problem by putting
frozen foods in a vacuum chamber and shooting through
them a powerful blast of ultra high-frequency radio
energy. The waves agitate the molecules in the interior
of the food and generate just enough heat to make the
ice crystals turn directly into water vapor. If the job is
handled properly, the food loses up to nine-tenths of
its weight and turns into a brittle sort of substance
while staying far below the freezing point. Chemical
changes, which would damage flavor, cannot take place.
Even unstable vitamins are preserved.
Raytheon regards its new process as experimental,
and it does not know yet how long freeze-dried foods
will keep at room temperature. They can be stored in
plastic envelopes filled with nitrogen to prevent oxida-
tion, but in the case of meat that contains fat there may
be a tendency to deteriorate with time. Elaborate tests
are now in progress to find the best ways to package
and store them.
Cautious Raytheon men do not want to predict
what effect freeze-drying will have commercially. But
they point out that freeze-dried foods can be shipped
without costly refrigeration and stored on grocers' or
One of the largest lobster companies has experimented
with this or a similar process. It reports that the results
128 ABOUT LOBSTERS
were " somewhat less than satisfactory." A jury of tasters
agreed that the lobster meat was rather tasteless and tough.
The High Voltage Engineering Company has developed
a process of sterilizing lobster meat by the radiation of high
voltage electricity. An early report ( 1960 ) on the results
of this process states that the meat is less tough than with
the Raytheon process but also that it is rather tasteless.
Most new processes were unsatisfactory at their begin-
nings; perhaps either of these methods may develop into an
acceptable way of preserving lobsters.
Pacific Coast Transplanting
Fish and Wildlife Service states :
A number of attempts have been made to establish
the American lobster to the Pacific coast. In the years
1874, 1879, 1888, and 1899, some 104,000 larvae and
355 adult lobsters were planted in California waters,
and 233 adults were released in Puget Sound and off the
mouth of the Columbia River in Washington. Also, two
lobsters were released in Great Salt Lake, Utah. All of
these transfers were unsuccessful. Between 1906 and
1917, efforts to transplant lobsters were intensified. A
total of 24,572 lobsters were planted in Puget Sound,
Washington, and 1,532 in Yaquina Bay, Oregon. It is
evident that these lobsters also failed to survive and re-
produce. In 1954, however, introductions of American
lobsters to waters near Prince Rupert, British Colum-
bia, met with some success. Several lobsters have been
caught two years after being released. One individual
was taken twenty miles from where it was planted.
Thus, it has now been shown that the lobsters can be
transplanted to Pacific water. 1
One problem in estimating results has been the scarcity
of persons who know what the Eastern lobster looks like.
It has been easy to receive reports of catching lobsters, only
to find that the catch was actually crawfish.
The ultimate success of this transplantation is yet to be
Artificial Rearing of Lobsters 2
Lobster hatcheries are not new; all the New England
States except Vermont and New Hampshire have tried their
1 " The American Lobster " (Bulletin No. 74), Fish and Wildlife Service.
2 Ernest W. Barnes, Bulletin, House No. 2051, Massachusetts Division of
Fisheries and Game, was used in preparation of this section. Much help
also came from John Hughes, Director of the Oak Bluffs Hatchery.
Fig. 17. One-day-old lobsters, ready for first shedding
ABOUT LOBSTERS 131
hands at it. Rhode Island was perhaps the earliest. Today
(1960) only Massachusetts, at its Oak Bluffs (Martha's
Vineyard) station, hatches and raises lobsters through the
To understand the benefits of and problems of rearing
lobsters, it is necessary to know the facts about them.
The female lobster extrudes her eggs onto the under-
side of the jointed part of her body and sticks them to the
swimmerets located there. There will be perhaps five thou-
sand eggs and up, and they resemble caviar. She carries the
eggs nine or ten months, and must be constantly on guard
against marauding fish which seek to steal the exposed eggs
and at the same time must control her own movements lest
the eggs be scraped off on the rocks. A high per cent of the
eggs eventually hatch into tiny mosquito-like larvae.
Upon hatching from the egg, the young lobster swims
helplessly near the top of the water for a period of from
ten to thirty days, depending upon the temperature of the
water. The swimming resembles " treading water " rather
than actual vigorous, directional, swimming. During this
period of heavy, aimless swimming it does not have the
characteristic form of the adult lobster, but resembles more
nearly a tiny shrimp, and, in addition to its tiny size, is in
further jeopardy due to the fact that while in this helpless
state it sheds its shell three times (see Figure 17).
In Massachusetts waters, these juveniles may go through
eight to eleven molts in their first year of life, the annual
number becoming progressively smaller with increasing age.
Each stage— representing the time between molts— has
a characteristic form. In the first three stages the young
lobsters are especially delicate and exhibit extreme cannibal-
istic tendencies, appearing to prefer to feed on each other
than on any other kind of food. They do not have the usual
instincts of caution or protection which are so pronounced
in the adult lobster, but swim headlong into obstacles and
dangerous looking situations. In passing into the fourth
stage, the young lobster takes on a shape quite similar to
that of the adult. In the early part of this stage, it swims
132 ABOUT LOBSTERS
vigorously with very evident direction, cautiously avoiding
danger; and in the latter part of this stage it commences its
life on the bottom, gradually giving up its swimming habits.
The tiny lobsters which survive the first four stages and
reach the bottom have a very much greater chance of sur-
viving, since they instinctively hide under shells or between
As might be expected, because of the hazardous condi-
tions in which they live, even under the best conditions in
nature, not many reach this fourth stage. In extreme mor-
tality, therefore, this represents the most critical period of
The problem of propagation is, therefore, to rear them
through the first four stages, protect them from natural
enemies, and, by feeding them heavily and by keeping them
separate from each other by the use of proper currents of
water, prevent or discourage cannibalism.
Once they take up their life on the bottom, the queer
little larvae all at once begin to look and act like lobsters.
The large claws which have been gradually making their
appearance, become prominent, and the baby lobster im-
mediately searches for places to hide on the ocean floor. It
now has a chance to escape from its enemies.
This history shows why the rearing of lobsters * *
through the fourth stage (Y\" to 1" long) is so impor-
tant. It is estimated that in nature only one-tenth of
one per cent of hatched eggs reach the fourth stage
yet in the Oaks Bluff hatchery approximately 30 per
It was originally required by law that Massachusetts
hatchery fry must be released in approximately the same
waters where the mother lobster was caught. This was to
prevent depletion of any area from which seed lobsters
were taken, and also because through ages of evolution, the
mother lobster, throughout the time of carrying her eggs and
especially when the period of their hatching begins, fre-
quents those areas within her range of travel that will pro-
vide the greatest protection for both eggs and young.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 133
Today the seed lobsters at Oak Bluffs come from trawl-
ing and from depths and distances where it is not possible
to replace the fry. As a result, these hatchery fourth-stage
lobsters can be placed anywhere, and it is possible to re-
stock any desired location.
Oak Bluffs was chosen for a hatchery because of its
warmer waters and proper salt content. Warmer water as-
sists in the speedier growth of small lobsters, permitting
them to molt more often and reach the fourth stage sooner.
Hatching lobsters is a highly seasonal business, lasting
only through one-half the year, for female lobsters hatch
their eggs only through the warmer months. To be a year-
round institution, the Oak Bluffs plant must primarily be a
research plant devoted to shellfish investigations as well as to
lobsters. Their work has evolved methods of circulating the
sea water in their tanks in such a way as to keep the fry
moving to discourage cannibalism, yet not to injure them by
forcing them against the outlet screens. Plenty of food is
provided to distract their cannibal traits. In Oak Bluffs, the
food is ground quahog instead of the usual ground liver.
Ground clams do not decay as quickly as liver, and the foul-
ing of the tanks is less likely.
The results of stocking coastal waters with fourth-stage
lobsters are very difficult to prove exactly.
Ernest W. Barnes, of the Massachusetts Division of
Fisheries and Game, states:
It is especially difficult to do so in the case of lob-
sters, since it requires at least five years before they
reach the legal size and the effects of planting become
known. However, such data as we have on the catch
of lobsters in Rhode Island, where lobster propagation
has been carried on for many years, show very definitely
that the decline in the catch of lobsters was halted
within five to six years after lobsters had been released
from the rearing plant in quantities in excess of 500,000.
It is further significant that this increase was especially
noticeable in those areas which, because of their near-
ness to the hatchery, received the largest supply of
134 ABOUT LOBSTERS
young. That the catch in other and neighboring states
did not show this increase lends added significance to
the above fact. 3
Maine's Sea and Shore Fisheries point out that the
number of fry released does not necessarily result in an in-
crease of young lobsters. Hatchery experiences show that
the present hatching and rearing methods are not as efficient
as could be desired. If better methods can be discovered
the conditions can be improved.
Oak Bluffs production of fourth-stage lobsters is only
200,000 a year. In the past, Rhode Island has had an annual
yield of 1,000,000 such lobster fry, yet compare the small-
ness of Rhode Island's coast with that of Massachusetts. It
is a pity that its production is so small, and the Oak Bluffs
Director, John Hughes, hopefully dreams of using some of
the salt-water ponds on Martha's Vineyard for large-scale
hatching. Here is a need for lobstermen to band together
to obtain a more suitable appropriation for the work.
The mortality of seed bearing lobsters in bringing them
to a hatchery is great, perhaps 30 per cent; but it is more
than offset by the benefits of a rearing plant. There is no way
to prevent seed lobsters from entering a pot, but today's
tendency is for lobstermen to release them in the locality
where they are caught rather than bring them ashore for
purchase and marking by state inspectors, then to be re-
leased in waters which may be highly unsuited to hatching.
" The artificial rearing of lobsters to the bottom-seeking
stages," says Mr. Barnes, " should be included in any plan
looking toward the re-invigoration of the lobster industry." 4
The hatchery in Rhode Island went out of business due
to a hurricane. In Federal Government hatcheries and those
of other states, it was necessary to heat the water, and it
became too expensive to continue.
" The time is already at hand," concludes Mr. Barnes,
" when, in common with all other coastal marine fisheries,
3 Barnes, op. cit.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 135
the lobster industry must be looked upon, not as a natural
resource of unlimited proportions to be exploited as the im-
mediate consideration dictates, but as a sea-farming activity
which— no matter how extensive the grazing area may now
seem, the abundance, nevertheless, has very definite limits
—may easily be destroyed; and a sufficient supply of grow-
ing stock must be retained if we are to maintain the desired
The marketing of lobsters has shown little change in
one hundred years. The exceptions are the lobstermen's
cooperatives, the specialty selling, such as Salt Water Farm,
airplane shipments, artificial sea water, and the search for
new means of preserving lobster meat. It is time to take a
long hard look at some of the outgrown practices of the
Marketing covers many phases of lobstering other than
selling. Included are:
1. Moving lobsters to consumers in the desired
form and conditions at the lowest possible cost
2. Making a living for lobstermen and dealers,
through a reasonable return for the money and effort
3. Finding new markets, new lobster products, or
more of the old products.
The lobsterman himself is directly involved in only the
second function; for the others he has to depend on someone
else. He often overlooks this dependence, and resents the
added expense—" The lobster I sell for 70 cents ends up in a
restaurant on a $4.00 dinner, or in a fish market for $1.50."
What determines the price? Supply and demand, of
course. The daily (blue) lobster price bulletin put out in
Boston by the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Com-
mercial Fisheries, is a factor, as is the green sheet pub-
lished in New York. It is based on inquiries among many
lobster wholesalers as to what they are paying that day and
is intended to be a representative cross-section of lobster
prices in New England. The prices on the green sheet are
for lobsters landed in New York and are about 10c per
pound higher than F.O.B. Maine.
The morning telephone gossip among buyers is probably
the biggest factor in arriving at a price. They learn that Joe
ABOUT LOBSTERS 137
Doakes has refused an offer of 65 cents from New York, that
another buyer has picked up 3,000 pounds from Jonesport
at 67 cents, but rumor is that there are a lot of tired lobsters
in the shipment, that a three-day storm off Cutler has kept
lobstermen at home for several days, and that the catch off
Boothbay is so poor that the lobstermen are only hauling
every other day. All signs point to a price of 75 cents or
better. On the other hand, Bill Smith has sold off his larger
lobsters and is loaded up with chicken lobsters, and he hears
that the per cent of small lobsters in the average catch is
running unusually high. He'd better unload— even at a loss
—and have his tanks and capital ready for a better buy. So
chicken lobsters are offered retail by the chain stores at less
than the lobstermen were paid.
This is an example of the unfavorable market trends
where a glut of production frequently causes small dealers
with limited capital and storage facilities to have to dump
their lobsters at distress prices so that they may continue
to meet their buying commitments.
Another factor which affects the prices of lobsters—
especially lobster meat— is the variation in fishing laws be-
tween the United States and certain provinces of Canada.
This refers to the low-priced lobster meat produced in New
Brunswick, so low that United States lobster dealers cannot
compete, nor can even other sections of Canada.
If the wholesale price is correct, then lobsters will move
freely to consumers (even if the price is high). But if it is
out of line, buying slows down and there is a glut. What the
consumer will pay is usually first noted by the wholesaler,
and works downward to the lobsterman. The wholesaler,
to a large extent, regulates the market price. He is a key
figure in the assembly and distribution of lobsters.
A good marketing system can help achieve fuller use
of the lobsters that are caught. It can cut down lobster
mortality and deterioration through new and better methods
of storage, packing, and handling. It can find by-product
uses for parts of the lobster which now are wasted. Storage
and processing improvements can provide fuller use of a
138 ABOUT LOBSTERS
lobsterman's gear, and help to iron out the seasonal nature
of the industry. The expense of transportation can be re-
duced, partly by reducing the bulk of lobster (and ice)
shipments, and partly by spreading the shipping season
over a greater part of the year. Two experimental methods
of processing lobsters have been described. 1 They have not
yet been successful, but they point the way toward better
Some lobstermen resent the profit of the man to whom
they sell. " The buyer doesn't have to put out in vile
weather. He doesn't have to stand the loss of gear in a
storm. He doesn't have to carry the loss when the catch is
so poor that it doesn't pay for the gas. Yet he makes a lot
better living than I do." All this is true, and a simpler sys-
tem of marketing would be desirable. But roadside stands
and door-to-door peddling, which would work when the
industry was small, won't work today. It is impractical
for the lobsterman to deal with the consumer. Now, the
lobsterman loses track of his catch. His lobsters are resold
several times, and several middlemen are involved. The
buyer has his griefs too, and must be paid for his contribu-
tion to the chain of marketing to ensure that the lobsters
reach the consumer in the desired form. He has to absorb
culls and dead lobsters ( sometimes a high percentage ) , fur-
nish the capital to pay the lobsterman on delivery, sell gear
(often at cost), supply bait, grade the catch, furnish ice
and transportation, and take the gamble that he can sell his
lobsters at a profit. He is a necessary link in the chain.
The dealer takes the biggest gamble. Granted that the
lobsterman risks loss of his traps in a storm, but the money in
his catch has a quick turnover. He handles hundreds of
pounds of lobster per week against the thousands of pounds
of a dealer. He sells for cash, usually at a flat pound price
without deduction for one-clawed or even weak lobsters.
The buyer naturally wants to buy as cheaply as pos-
sible and sell for as much as he can, and this understandable
attitude irks many lobstermen, who often think their buyers
1 See pages 123-28.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 139
are whittling them down. But lobstermen in general seem
to have very little real interest in the buyer's situation and
his problems. If suddenly all buyers went out of business,
the lobsterman would find himself up to his ears in lobsters,
and no place to sell them. Remember that a buyer often
has to purchase lobsters when he doesn't want to, and sell
them at prices that are too low. If he doesn't do this, he
could not prevent a glut of lobsters— and still lower prices.
And the buyer would lose his clientele of lobstermen.
This is not to imply that the middlemen's profits are too
high or too low. In making such a judgment, one should
consider returns on invested capital in relation to the returns
on invested capital in other comparable industries. If the
returns are comparable, the needed capital will be attracted,
and there will be more buyers to bid for the lobsters.
Startling evidence that the lobster industry is not ad-
vancing as it should is based on this statement on farm
practices: More full-time workers were engaged in 1953
in marketing farm products than in producing them. During
the last twenty years, the number of workers in agriculture
has gone down about 30 per cent, while the number in mar-
keting may have increased by as much as one-third.
Compare this with the lobster industry. Has the num-
ber of men required to catch 1,000 pounds of lobsters been
appreciably reduced? It does not seem likely. Then, can
one deduce that the science of lobster catching is standing
still? A common complaint in the industry is that there are
too many lobstermen, and nobody makes a good living. If
improvements in fishing can be devised, then fewer men
can catch as many lobsters as before, and make a better
Another angle in marketing is to find new markets. Take
crabs, for instance. Can the market for crabmeat be in-
creased? Some people prefer it to lobstermeat, and the same
gear that catches lobster can catch crabs. Could a lobster-
man increase the dollar value of his day's haul by fishing
for crabs also? Already this marketing is being practiced by
140 ABOUT LOBSTERS
Standards. Other industries have recognized standards
for their products, and the seller lives up to these stand-
ards, and guarantees they are a specified grade. The lobster
industry has a few standards such as " large," " select,"
" chicken," and " culls." But there is no designation show-
ing how many days since a lobster has molted, i.e., how soft
is its shell, or how many days it has been kept in a tank or
pound, i.e., how freshly caught, or any designation from how
deep water it has come ( anyone would prefer a lobster from
the deep, cold water of Maine to one caught in the warmer,
shallow water of Hingham Harbor), or even if lobster meat
comes from a freshly cooked, vigorous specimen or from a
tired lobster culled out of a tank. This lack of standards
benefits the careless handler, or the unscrupulous dealer. So
poor are the standards that South African lobster tails are
commonly advertised and sold as lobster meat— and they
are not lobsters at all, but crawfish.
When dealers can be brought together to agree on
designations for different grades, the whole industry will
Premium lobsters. Some districts catch premium lob-
sters, usually so called because they are larger. There isn't
much the lobsterman can do about this, unless the sup-
posedly larger size of Monhegan lobsters is due to the volun-
tary limitations of the fishing season. In contrast, there are
a few harbors which have the reputation of an inferior
catch— too many culls. The middleman can aid in the pro-
duction of premium lobsters. Of course, he can do this by
buying the fresher, stronger catch, but he can also do it by
greater care in handling and storing them in his tanks. It is
surprising to see the large number of dead lobsters removed
in the morning from one buyer's tanks as compared with
those of a buyer who handles them better. This is a matter
A careful buyer will take note of how the lobsterman
handles his catch. A few topnotch lobstermen keep a half
barrel in their cockpits and pump sea water into it continu-
ously. The lobsters go into this barrel as soon as they are
ABOUT LOBSTERS 141
plugged. Compare this method and its effect on the lob-
sters with the common method of dropping them into a
basket. True, they are usually protected from the sun by a
canvas cover, but they are in the hot summer air for much
of the day, and unquestionably weakened. Buying from the
lobsterman who keeps his lobsters in water would help the
reputation of the buyer, i.e., his lobsters would be premium
and would arrive in better shape at their destination.
Education again, and that is part of marketing.
Waste and spoilage. The perishable food of all kinds
lost between the farm and the kitchen would feed millions
of people. Spoilage by bacteria and molds, damage from
rough handling, and deterioration in the quality all take
The same applies to lobstering, and the fault extends all
down the line, from the lobsterman who roughly chucks his
shorts overboard to fall with a splash on the water, or does
not take pains to gently put a seed lobster back into the sea;
to the buyer who harshly pulls apart two lobsters that are
clinging together, or overloads his tanks, or does not keep,
his pound clean; to the wholesaler who doesn't ice his ship-
ments adequately, or doesn't tank his lobsters before ship-
ping. 2 All these are to blame.
It is sad to watch how some lobster buyers pack their
lobsters in crates for shipping. It is not known why a
shipper feels he has to cram each crate so full that the lid
has to be pressed down. Granted that some of the lobsters
will be shaken down by the jarring of the truck en route
to their destination, but some of them must travel in dis-
torted and unnatural positions. This cannot be good for
them. Undoubtedly some of them are in a pretty moribund
condition by the time the crates are pried open. Un-
doubtedly some of these never reach the customer.
Much has been done to combat waste, such as the use
of better shipping containers and refrigerated trucks, better
control of disease, better methods of holding lobsters in tanks
2 See page 36.
and pounds— but there is still a high mortality, and much of
it is due to ignorance or carelessness.
Canada seems to be ahead of the United States in using
more of the lobster; some dealers even pool their boiled trash
and have it picked up on a regular schedule for conversion
into fertilizer. It is reported that Canada has developed a
vacuum tool to separate carapace meat from the cartilage,
and put up lobster legs in packages for ready sale.
Some fruits, such as cantaloupes, need to be ripened
after they reach their destination, and are put into ripening
rooms of controlled temperature and humidity. It is an ex-
cellent marketing practice to make sure that the fruit reaches
consumers in the condition they want it. Similarly, it might
be good practice to tank lobsters after their trip to a city to
revitalize them. Such a tank could have natural or artificial
sea water mixed with a plentiful supply of air or even oxy-
Branding. An important aspect of merchandising is the
marking of a particularly good product with a brand name
as an essential to enable the customer to recognize a supe-
rior product. A brand name is assisted by a distinctive pack-
age. Whole lobsters are not readily adapted to packaging,
but processed lobster products are.
The State of Maine has been
desirous of marking its product as
" Maine Lobster," and several years
ago furnished lobstermen free with
rubber bands, each carrying a two-
color plastic plate printed " State of
Maine Lobster." (See Figure 18.)
This was a real step forward in
better merchandising. These rub-
ber bands were to be used in place
of plugs in securing a lobster's big
claw, and they were good, in that
banding is better than plugging,
which injures the claw; and es-
pecially because they identified the
product. But they were impractical because lobstermen
found them too hard to apply ( there were then no tongs to
expand them), and would not use them. Anyone who has
seen a freshly caught lobster, fighting mad, rearing back with
his claws wide open, can see how difficult it is to expand the
elastic and slip it over the claw.
Another method of branding is shown in Figures 19
and 20. These are two samples of printed metal disks to be
snapped over the tail of a lobster. Each has a locking tongue
which pierces the tail and holds it in place. They were
much easier to apply than the bands but were expensive.
Notice that these are private name brands.
Several years ago, wooden
plugs were sold, each having the
word " Maine " burned into
them. They seemed to be a solu-
Fig. 21 tion of branding since they re-
quired no extra labor. A lobster is going to be plugged any-
way, so why not use a branded plug? They were not widely
enough accepted to make their manufacture profitable (the
plug shown in Figure 21 is a private brand ) .
A fourth branding method, tried only in a limited way,
was the use of decalcomania, or transfers, whereby printing
is transferred from a carrying sheet to any object desired.
They were excellent; they were intended to be applied to the
carapace or solid shell of the lobster. But their application
was far too slow to be practical.
A fifth way of marking a lobster is the device used by
144 ABOUT LOBSTERS
the state fisheries to tag them to test migration. This is a
metal tag having one end bent over to form a hook to be
caught under the back end of the carapace. The other end
of the tag is fastened to an elastic band which in turn is
slipped over the beak of the lobster. It is easy to apply, it
will stay in place and does not injure the lobster.
" Sealedsweet " oysters have been marketed with a
metal seal on each oyster, threaded through holes in the
lips of both shells. It was expensive, but it labeled the
That none of these devices is in use today does not
change the fact that they were the finest sort of marketing
They were not adopted because they were difficult to
apply or too expensive. Yet some branding device is neces-
sary if advertising lobsters is ever seriously undertaken.
Again, the problem seems to simmer down to education
among the lobs term en and the buyers. If they could be
shown how much branding would help them, then they
A brand name is one of the few ways that the United
States lobster industry could combat the influx of Canadian
lobsters with their competitive low prices.
Brand names are in use on a few lobster products, such
as the " Ocean Clear " trade name of Consolidated Lobster
Company, or the name " Saltwater Farm." Both firms are
Advertising. Once an industry has a fine product and a
brand name, it is in condition to advertise. The old saying
that if you build a better mousetrap, though you live in the
middle of the woods, you will have a beaten path to your
door, just is not so. Unless the buyer learns of your product,
and how superior it is, you are going to have a small busi-
The lobster industry is going to have the importance of
advertising forced down its throat. In fact, it already has;
witness the attractive colored advertisements of South Afri-
can Lobster Tails.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 145
Advertising is expensive but has proven over and over
again to yield big profits beyond its cost. It is doubtful if
any state would pay for the advertising expense for any one
industry, but if the lobstermen and buyers could be brought
together and educated, they could raise the funds by a vol-
untary small tax on each lobster. Approximately 25 million
lobsters (1960) are caught in Maine per year. One-half of
one cent tax on each lobster would raise an advertising fund
of $125,000. Does anyone raise their eyebrow in amuse-
ment at such an impractical idea? Yet something similar
has been done, and among the same sort of folk as the
lobstermen. The Maine potato growers banded together,
voluntarily put a tax on each bag of potatoes, and hired a
top-notch advertising firm to handle their campaign — with
It can be done.
An example of what advertising might do is to educate
doctors and the public that lobsters afford perhaps the best
and certainly the most palatable way of introducing phos-
phorus into the human body. 3 Calcium phosphate forms
about 58 per cent of bones, which owe their rigidity to its
presence. In young animals phosphorus has a remarkable
influence on the growth of bones. Owing to this influence,
it has been used in the treatment of rickets. Its most effec-
tive use, however, is as a nerve tonic in paralysis agitans,
locomotor ataxia, impotence, and nervous exhaustion. Yet
very few people know this.
Another help from advertising would be to establish in
the public mind that two chicken lobsters are preferable to
one larger lobster. Some restaurants serve two chicken lob-
sters this way, but the buyer has not been sold on the fact
that they are as desirable.
The Annual Lobster Festival in Rockland, Maine, is an
advertising venture; but it doesn't reach many people, and it
doesn't take advantage of the opportunity to educate those
it does reach, on the handling of lobsters or how to open
them or in what forms lobster can be bought.
3 See page 28.
146 ABOUT LOBSTERS
The displaying of living lobsters in a tank is excellent
advertising, but it has not been exploited sufficiently. A dis-
play tank should be visible from the sidewalk, without re-
quiring an observer to enter the store. The modern knowl-
edge of how to use artificial sea water makes this possible.
Consumer wants. Not much thought has been given
to how consumers would like lobster to reach them.
It is probable that women are the principal buyers of
lobsters, yet many women are afraid of them and dread to
handle them because of the threat of one unplugged claw.
Lobsters are now plugged in the big claw, not for the bene-
fit of the consumer, but to prevent them from injuring each
other. It would be good merchandising to consider the
housewife, and secure both claws; also to eliminate the
black meat in claws caused by plug infection by using rub-
ber bands instead of plugs. 4
Is there a better way of delivering a fresh lobster than
alive? Few kitchens are equipped with lobster shears
which make it easy to open the shell, and there must be
many a woman who is unskilled in handling a knife to slit
open the body and break the claws. Poultry is sold freshly
cooked and all cut up, needing only rewarming. Does this
suggest any better way of selling a lobster?
Numerous printed instructions on how to open a lobster
have been published, but how often do such instructions
reach the buyer? This may mean that there are potential
buyers who do not purchase because they are stumped on
how to open a lobster.
Cooperatives. Lobster cooperatives are patterned after
farmers' granges, which were established after the Civil War
as a fraternal organization to improve farm conditions. The
amazing number of 24,000 were formed. The granges un-
dertook the purchase of implements and supplies, selling of
farm products and operation of grain elevators, ran coopera-
tive stores; and even went into banking and the manufacture
of farm machinery. Many of them were not truly coopera-
4 See page 56ft.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 147
tive in that their earnings were distributed on the basis of
stock holding rather than patronage. This factor contributed
to the short life of many of them.
The old belief that a farmer's business interests should
end at his front gate still was strong in 1900, and this belief
is still shared by many lobstermen. On the other hand,
farmers learned much about business methods in their early
attempts to cooperate. They also tasted the strength of
organization and acquired cooperative experience that their
fathers did not possess.
The loss in 1960, during the hurricane, of all the tanked
lobsters held by the Massachusetts cooperative in Scituate
must have been an eloquent, though painful, lesson of the
risks which dealers take.
Some lobstermen's cooperatives were formed primarily
as purchasing agencies; they could buy a whole truckload of
bait at a wholesale price, without having to give up several
days' fishing each month to go after bait. Moreover, they
were much more certain of getting their bait than any in-
dividual lobsterman could be. In addition, they could pur-
chase warp and other gear at better prices. Today, most
cooperatives buy the lobsterman's catch, paying cash as do
other lobster buyers, and handling the sale of the lobsters.
There are five lobster cooperatives in Maine, and one
large one in Massachusetts. They are a definite step forward
towards uniting many men's interests, thereby multiplying
their strength. They have the opportunity to band together
and exert better marketing practices, something the other
lobster buyers have not been able to do. Their success de-
pends on their ability to obtain able managers, and on such
control that lobstermen are obliged to trust one another.
When lobster buyers tried in the past to join forces, they
found that members could not be trusted to live up to their
mutual agreements, and the union fell apart. This lack of
trust is one of the biggest weaknesses among lobstermen. If
anyone is a more rugged individualist than a lobsterman,
he'd be hard to find. If anyone suggests that he give up an
iota of his freedom, he will bristle with indignation and tell
148 ABOUT LOBSTERS
you where to go. On the other hand, he will go out of his
way to help a fellow in distress; he might even rescue a
drowning dealer, just so he can keep griping about him. The
hope for branded lobsters, better standards of grading, and
taxes for advertising rests on educating these organizations
of lobstermen into seeing the benefits to be gained.
There are usually some valuable by-products of suc-
cessful cooperative performance other than the dollars and
cents values. Lobstermen, through their active part in own-
ing and operating their own marketing machinery, have a
better understanding of the away-from-home aspects of
The North Atlantic Lobster Institute was a cooperative
of lobster dealers from Canada, Maine, and Massachusetts
who in the aggregate handled about 75 per cent of the lob-
sters distributed in the United States. It was a fine idea,
and undertook to promote most of the marketing ideas de-
scribed here. Most of all, it was a uniting of dealers to ac-
complish improvements which one firm alone could not do.
Unfortunately, it has gone out of existence because there
was not enough belief in its benefits, and consequently not
enough financial support.
Dealers are often as sot and fiercely independent as
lobstermen. They go to dealers' meetings not to cooperate as
much as to make sure that no one else is making any more
money than they are. This lack of cooperative spirit has
broken up cooperative after cooperative. Yet they keep
forming. Why? Because, perhaps, underneath this inde-
pendence is the half-awake instinct that only through some
sacrifice of individuality can a greater good be achieved.
Some day either some cooperative of dealers is going to
work voluntarily or successful fishermen cooperatives are
going to force them to work.
The solution of most of the lobster marketing problems
lies in the education of all parties involved. Each state
should be able to help in showing the way.
A small-scale federal lobster investigation began in
1939 at Boothbay Harbor, Maine. The principal objective
was to study ways of increasing the production of fourth-
stage lobsters in the lobster-rearing station operated by the
Maine Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries in coopera-
tion with the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries. 1 The scope of the in-
vestigation was expanded to study certain biological aspects,
i.e., lobster migrations, early life history, growth distribu-
tion and habits of the sub-legal sizes, and size composition of
the catches. During World War II, the work was curtailed
as personnel devoted most of their efforts to wartime duties.
In 1947, the federal lobster investigation was ended. At
that time the two principal lobster-producing states— Maine
and Massachusetts— had begun their own lobster studies.
Because lobster research appeared to be more of a state than
a federal matter, the Fish and Wildlife Service was pleased
to have the states assume the responsibility.
At this time (1960), lobster research is carried on
by Maine and Massachusetts, but only on a limited scale.
Maine's efforts have been principally directed towards assist-
ing the industry with some of the practical problems such as
testing new types of lobster traps, devising better methods
of holding live lobsters in recirculated water, disinfecting
lobster pounds, and providing trouble-shooting services to
operators of tank storage facilities, as well as some basic
biological research. These activities are carried on inter-
mittently by biologists engaged primarily in other studies.
A Saltonstall-Kennedy grant to the Maine Department of
Sea and Shore Fisheries has financed an economic-biological
study of the lobster industry.
In Massachusetts, lobster research is now confined prin-
cipally to biological observations on the age, growth, and
1 Pages 149-50 are quoted from Leslie W. Scattergood and Robert L. Dow,
" The Lobster Industry."
150 ABOUT LOBSTERS
feeding habits of lobsters at the lobster-rearing station in
There are a number of significant problems which
should be studied. They are:
1. The factors that affect abundance and produc-
tivity (populations dynamics)
2. Improvements in handling, holding, and ship-
ping live lobsters
3. Product diversification
4. The economic-biological management of the re-
The estimated cost of these studies is $230,000.
In addition, in its 20th Biennial Report, the Department
of Sea and Shore Fisheries lists three more specific prob-
1. A study of the life history of the American lob-
ster ( Homarus americanus ) . We believe that this study
would be most valuable and should provide much in-
formation on sound conservation and marketing prac-
2. An evaluation of predation (living by prey) as
a factor affecting the abundance of lobsters. Both pro-
ducers and lobster dealers should benefit from this
study, and the information gathered should be of great
use in any further work on processing and marketing.
3. Investigation of natural and synthetic lobster
baits. In an off year, bait could become the number one
problem of the Maine lobster fishing industry. As it is,
it constitutes the greatest single expense to the pro-
ducer. For the past two years there has been an abun-
dance of herring which has prevented the situation
from becoming critical. But if the groundfish and red-
fish industry should decline and if there should be a
year when herring are scarce, lobster fishermen could
be faced with their most serious problem to date. For
these reasons, we feel that these bait studies are of the
greatest importance. 2
See pages 74-
ABOUT LOBSTERS 151
A Plea for Research. An editorial in Maine Coast Fish-
erman, January, 1950, is worth repeating here:
" Those darned fools at the Boothbay Laboratory
don't amount to a damn."
Well, it looks like you're right; they haven't found
the cure for pink tail, and they haven't helped much to
make lobsters breed faster.
So what's the use of keeping on with them? Why
not close down the whole Lobster Rearing Station and
Maybe we might be helped in deciding if we look
backwards a couple of generations to a man named
Pasteur— the man who discovered the pasteurization of
milk. He was a scientist and a biologist like the men
who run the Boothbay Lab. He set out to learn what
bacteria did to wine and other things, including milk.
It took him ten years of patient plugging-and getting
jeered at most of the time-to discover how to treat
milk to make it safe. Of course, today his name is hon-
ored and lots of babies owe their lives to him. But Pas-
teur wasn't any hero during those weary years of trying,
test by test, to learn the answer.
The staff at Boothbay is good, and they're tackling
our problems in the best ways known to science. But
it takes time-a lot of it-and it takes a lot of patience to
plug ahead when you don't get results right away; par-
ticularly if lobstermen keep hollering for more show for
We ought to sit tight. The Boothbay scientists are
learning more all the time. Along with the big searches,
they are learning sidelines about lobsters. Frequently,
Sea and Shore Fisheries comes out with a leaflet giving
more knowledge about lobsters. It is real dope— not
guesswork. How are you going to treat this informa-
tion? Are you going to jeer, or are you going to think,
" That crowd has found out by tests what is so and what
isn't so. I'll bank on it that they are right."
Let's back them up. Quit kicking and start listen-
ing and believing.
Suggested Lines of Thought for Inventors
Thomas A. Edison said: " There is a way to do it better.
1. Artificial bait. Try phosphorus as a component of a
bait. It is an important chemical to a lobster, so he must
seek it. 3
The fluids squeezed and dried out of fish scrap to make
fishmeal should have all the components attractive to a lob-
ster. A lobster senses his bait through water-borne attract-
ants, and these fluids should have them. Yet it is an ex-
pense to the fishmeal people to get rid of the fluids.
So why not use them as a hire?
It should be much easier to learn how to dispense fish
fluids than it is to discover the chemicals in brim ( the scraps
after filleting a fish) for which a lobster yearns. Remember
that the chemicals in fish scrap change from hour to hour
as the fish decays, and it might take a lifetime of chemical
research to find what a lobster craves. It would not be easy
to evolve a dispenser which releases such a lure, a drop at
a time, but any invention which can be held in the hand
and studied is very much easier to understand than the in-
tangibles of a chemical action.
Such a bait probably would have to be heavily salted,
( both to preserve it and to make it heavier than sea-water ) ,
and then carefully filtered.
Learn how to introduce strong trimethylamine ( stronger
than a 10 per cent solution) into sea water, and do it
slowly, a bubble at a time. Its odor makes it difficult to
handle, but it has shown evidence of being a lobster at-
tractant. Perhaps Dr. Harry Lee can explain how he dis-
persed his gas. 4
3 See page 28.
4 See page 83.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 153
2. Liglits for lures. Try lights outside of a pot, perhaps
four or five feet above. All experiments with lights have
been made with the light inside the pot. Inside, a light
might repel a lobster from entering. A light outside might
lure a lobster into the neighborhood of the pot without
scaring him from entering. The attraction of the bait might
complete his capture.
Devise a practical way to shake up a neon-and-mercury
glass bulb so that it will light up. It has shown some prom-
ise as a lure. 5
3. Brands. Develop an inexpensive and quick way of
marking a lobster.
4. Better lobster pots. Design a better lobster pot, or
even only part of a pot. It is reported that the base of a pot
made of plastic is being developed in Boothbay.
a. Get away from wood and its buoyancy and its
attraction to borers
b. Make it collapsible
c. Improve its shape 7
d. Perhaps make it smaller by eliminating the par-
lor and use instead some other trapping device,
such as the " inhibitor " in the Leakey pot. He
says it works. 8
5. Research in anti-biotics. Work further with anti-bi-
otics. 9 If an unsealed and ungutted fish can have its flesh
penetrated and preserved, then there should be a way to im-
pregnate a lobster with the chemical. And the lobster is
alive to circulate the chemical throughout his bloodstream—
a benefit the dead fish did not have.
6. A slogan. Devise a good slogan saying that " two
chicken lobsters are a tastier meal than one large lobster."
7. Other uses. Find out how to use the carapace ( the
hard-shelled part of the lobster).
e See pages 142-44.
7 See page 44.
8 See page 49.
9 See pages 124-25.
Cooking and Preparing
Lobsters are eaten boiled, broiled alive, baked-stuffed,
and in numerous dishes such as lobster Newburg, where the
meat is not served in the shell. Boiled lobster either hot or
cold is by far the most common method, and the easiest for
Actually, the preferred method of cooking is not boil-
ing, but steaming. The lobster is placed in about one inch
of boiling water to which a heaping teaspoonful of salt has
been added. Fully immersing a lobster in boiling water will
cook out some of its flavor— just as boiling a fowl will cook
out the chicken broth. For a small lobster fifteen minutes'
steaming will suffice. For larger lobsters, from twenty to
thirty minutes, if the water is really boiling when the lobster
is put in the pot. Do not remove the plugs or bands until
after the lobster is cooked.
Some cooks claim that they seal in the flavor of a cooked
lobster if they immerse it in cold water immediately after
cooking. Whether or not this is so, the cooling off makes
the handling of him much easier.
Getting the meat out of the shell is the trick of the
whole serving, and can seem to be too great a feat if the
housewife has not seen it done. It is not too difficult. Put a
large bowl in your sink and work over that so that you will
catch some of the juice as you break open the lobster (it
makes a wonderful bisque, when combined with milk and
butter and seasonings to taste ) .
1. Break the lobster apart where the jointed tail
section joins the solid part of the shell. Grab one part
in each fist and twist. It is easy, and the whole lobster
will come apart, retaining its meat in each section.
2. Push the meat out of the tail section. This is
best done by breaking off the five little fins at the ex-
treme tail of the lobster. The end tip of inner meat is
ABOUT LOBSTERS 155
thereby exposed, and the whole meat in the tail can be
pushed forward and out of the shell by pressure of the
thumb. Another way is to split the underneath length
of the tail section with a carving knife and break the
shell apart. Use a stiff knife.
3. Slice this tail meat down its length. You are
looking for the lower intestine, to pick out and remove
it. It is the only part of the innards of a lobster that is
not edible. In a freshly caught lobster, this intestine
looks like a couple of inches of black string. The black
material is dung, and if the color is present it shows that
the lobster has not emptied the bowel, as it will do if
kept a few days in a tank. It is one of the best tests of
the freshness of your lobster. An emptied bowel does not
mean your lobster is not good, healthy and vigorous
when cooked, but only that he is not so fresh out of the
4. Break off both arms where they attach to the
Remove the plugs or bands
Break the claws away from the arms
Break the two parts of the claws apart
5. Break the shell of claws and arms with a ham-
mer or nut cracker. Break only enough to enable the
diner to pick out the meat. Do not excessively crush
the inner meat. ( Lobster shears are buyable and make
all these cuttings or crushing operations much easier. )
6. Cut down the length of the solid-shelled part of
the lobster. Cut on a line between where the walking
legs join the body. With one fist on each side of the
body break the shell apart. You have exposed the upper
cavity of the body. The greenish material is tomalley
or liver, and is choice, in taste if not in appearance. It
is often used for hors d'oeuvres. The salmon colored
material is known as " coral " and is unlaid eggs, also
edible but of less taste. Break off the walking legs and
suck out the meat.
156 ABOUT LOBSTERS
Serve the lobster with melted butter into which
each mouthful should be dipped. Provide nut-picks for
easy removal of the meat.
Note: The jointed tail of a lobster should always curl
up on itself whether the lobster is supposedly alive or
cooked. You should be able to uncurl this tail with your
hand, and have it snap back to the curled position. If this
does not happen in a " live " lobster, then that lobster is
dead or dying. If it does not snap back in a boiled lobster,
then the lobster was dead before he was boiled. Most res-
taurants know this and will take back without fuss a lobster
in this condition.
So You Want to be a Lobsterman ?
This chapter is primarily concerned with the lobster
fisherman but dwells on the other sides of the lobster in-
dustry such as the lobster buyer, the business of pounding
lobsters, and the wholesaler.
It is natural that any boy (or girl for that matter, and
there are several successful lobsterwomen ) who lives near
the sea may turn to lobstering for his lifework. But it is a
different sort of life than most people experience. It can
be a good life and a profitable one: IF
If you can stand its loneliness.
A lobsterman is up before dawn and is usually alone
during his fishing. It is surprising how few lobsterboats
are equipped with radios whose music would ease the
monotony, as they do in factories.
Sure, some fishermen who have a large number of traps
( perhaps up to 500 ) have company and take along a helper
if they plan to haul half of the string every day. But this is
overhead expense and can be the bane of a lobsterman as it
is in any other industry. It divides the profit though the in-
creased catch may make up for the loss.
The man whose interests are centered on things out-
side himself ( the extrovert ) may be less happy in a lobster-
man's loneliness than will the man who fin^s his satisfaction
with his own inner thoughts (the inirovert). But there
is no such thing as being wholly introvert or wholly extro-
vert. All of us have some of each characteristic. However,
once a lobsterman has reached his fishing grounds he is busy
and has little time for daydreaming.
Can you do without company while you are working?
* reprinted courtesy of National Fisherman
158 ABOUT LOBSTERS
// yon will realize that it is a poorly paid profession.
Or more exactly, it is poorly paid for the majority who
could probably earn a better day's pay working for Bath Iron
Works. But this shipyard is not nearby for most men nor
does such supervised and confining work appeal to men
who have an independent streak — they have got to feel
free and be their own boss.
There are over 5,000 registered lobstermen in Maine
alone, and they catch approximately 20,000,000 pounds of
lobsters in an average year. That averages out to 4,000
pounds of lobsters per man. It includes the little man with
only 20 pots fishing from a dory as well as the expert who
catches more than average.
Yet, 4,000 pounds per man in a year, at the recent
average price of 75 cents per pound, only comes to $3,000
per year, and out of this must come the cost of bait, gasoline,
and gear maintenance (30 per cent loss of pots per season
is not uncommon).
You must be determined to be a top-liner if you want to
earn a good living as a lobsterman. Education is the prob-
Lobstering does not have to be poorly paid, and isn't,
for a few top-liners. It isn't easy to discover what makes one
lobsterman much more successful than another, any more
than you can put your finger on one doctor's success versus
another doctor's lack of it. Probably it's the knowledge of
his art (skill) that is an outstanding requisite.
Notice that hard work is not listed here, because most
lobstermen are hard workers. Good luck seems to be of
small influence, since a bad storm and lost gear can hurt the
expert lobsterman as badly as the dub, though perhaps the
expert will read the signs of an approaching gale and get
some of his pots ashore.
If knowledge is the key to becoming an outstanding
fisherman then what must this man know, and how can he
acquire the education?
In the first place, the young fisherman must want to
ABOUT LOBSTERS 159
know more about lobsters. If he isn't smarter than lobsters
in learning their habits and their appetites then he will not
become a top-liner. It sounds easy, doesn't it? But it is not.
There are countless lobstermen who have fished all
their lives who rarely question the effectiveness of their gear
or will listen to suggestions, and are much ruffled at the idea
that anyone outside their trade can tell them anything.
It is education that is lacking (not book-learning edu-
cation but education in their trade ) , and it is pretty hard to
teach an old dog new tricks.
Education can start by apprenticing yourself to an ex-
perienced lobsterman for a season. He should be a success-
ful fisherman, but above all he should be a man who will
share his knowledge, i.e., how does he know that it is good
fishing ground off Jones's Point in August but not in June,
and why is he changing bait from redfish to herring? And
if he is a top-liner, notice how poorer lobstermen drop their
pots around his set, and how they fumble around to find his
new fishing grounds when he moves — always following,
If you set your heart on being more than an average
lobsterman, are you prepared to learn, and keep on learning
from any source, even the summer visitor (who may be a
distinguished developer of new ideas ) who innocently asks,
" Why don't you start lobstering later in the morning in-
stead of at the crack of dawn? "
Most lobstermen wouldn't bother to answer this ques-
tion, and would glare at the questioner in stony-eyed con-
tempt. But a man who is continually searching for education
will think, " That's a thought. Are our reasons good enough
It is unfortunate that the solitariness of a lobsterman's
life, and the rareness of his contacts with people outside his
own small community very definitely limit his knowledge
of what other men are doing. It must, and it does, result in
narrowmindedness. You laugh if a neighbor says, " My
father lobstered for fifty years. He knew where the ledges
160 ABOUT LOBSTERS
and feeding grounds were. What was good enough for
him is good enough for me."
Yet, will you turn up your nose at equipping with a
depth recorder, calling it new fangled, unnecessary and
sissy fishing gear? The ledges don't shift but your memory
may. Or will you try out a new pot design if it is offered
Education is probably the greatest need for the whole
lobster industry. Very few lobstermen will recognize this.
They are so close to their job and so steeped in their habits
that they can't or won't draw off and size up the whole
Are you ready and capable of doing this? It is one of
the abilities of the top-liner to see his weaknesses — that is
the first step toward correcting them.
You may doubt the statement that many lobstermen are
close-minded, but consider today's lobster pot. It hasn't
changed in over 100 years except for the addition of the
parlor. How many other tools haven't been improved in
100 years, except the lobster pot?
Even the frying pan is less clumsy and less greasy and
the hoe is of better steel and lighter. Have the number of
men required to catch 1,000 pounds of lobsters been ap-
Pots are still made of wood, and become lighter when
immersed in sea water when they should become heavier
to anchor them to the sea floor. They still will allow trapped
lobsters to escape. They still can be rolled about the ocean
floor in a storm, and smashed. They still are being chewed
up by toredo. Is this advancement?
Advancement of lobstering practices will have to come
from today's apprentices, at least from those who see the
need for educating themselves, and will seek the education.
Openmindedness is the opposite of narrowmindedness.
Will you try anything which promises to benefit your trade
Lots of fishermen won't be bothered.
It has been said, " The very first essential of any rea
ABOUT LOBSTERS 161
education is to observe concrete facts. Unless you do this
you have no material out of which to manufacture know-
ledge. Compare the facts you have observed; and you will
find yourself thinking out conclusions. These conclusions
are real knowledge, and they are your own."
Education includes testing the truth of many accepted
practices, and weeding out " old wives tales." Some lobster-
men insist on using dyed-green nylon twine for their pot
heads. Others insist that only brown or white are effective.
Do you believe there is any difference? There may be, but
no scientific tests have been published to prove the point.
Or are these beliefs just " sotness "?
On the other hand, there are many beliefs of lobstermen
which are true and which have been proven over years of
use, but it is surprising the number of practices that are ef-
fective but to which the lobstermen attribute the wrong
A new oak trap won't fish until it has been soaked for a
week "in sea water to make it " water-logged." Of course,
it will soak up water in a week, but it is more likely that it
is the acid leaching out of the oak which makes it fishable.
To be sure, the brash young beginner has to learn that
there are " know-hows " of the old-timers which can't be
overlooked. For example, the young engineer fresh out of
college has learned to accurately measure the heat of a
flame with a pyrometer (a heat thermometer). Then he
sees the village blacksmith haul a white-hot piece of iron
out of his fire, hold it up to squint at it, and declare, " That's
just about hot enough." The young engineer is aghast at
such slipshod methods of judging heat.
But as he grows older and more experienced he is sur-
prised to learn how accurate is the blacksmith's judgment.
Years of experience with glowing iron have given him a
knowledge beyond the understanding of the untaught. An
old-time lobsterman has learned similar valuable ways of
There are several college graduates who are lobstermen,
162 ABOUT LOBSTERS
and they are highly successful. In talking with them one
is impressed that their success is in no way due to their
" book-learning " but in the training of their minds to ques-
tion the accepted means and gear for fishing, and their
willingness to study the lobster and outsmart him.
If you can stand the rugged life.
Lobstering is a rugged life. The summer visitor sees
a lobsterman hauling his pots on a warm summer day with
little wind and no sea running. It looks to be an ideal way
of earning a living.
But let this same visitor get up before dawn, lug aboard
three bushels of stinking fish bait with five gallons of gas
and row them out to his vessel. It may be raining and
blowing smart. The sea will be rough, and it will be pene-
As soon as he has passed the lee of the harbor the
visitor will be seasick and oh, so miserable, and glad to take
shelter in the cuddy. The lobsterman may not be seasick
but he can be miserable too, and he's got to continue most
of the day, and darned glad to creep home to a quiet harbor.
Multiply these miseries for fishing in the colder weather
of early spring and late fall, and you test a lobsterman's
Then consider the man who fishes all winter. He
probably doesn't put out oftener than every other day but
that is no job for a weakling. Can your hands stand being
continuously wet with 40° water even though you wear
cotton gloves? Yet it pays, for the scarcity of lobsters in
winter nearly doubles the price for your catch.
If you have the heart to meet discouragement.
Imagine it, all day out in the cold and only 10 lobsters
to show for it — not enough to pay for your gas. You shift
the location of your pots, you change your bait, and still no
decent catch all week — the lobsters just aren't feeding.
Then you run into a three-day nor'easter when you
can't go out. After the sea calms down you spend two days
ABOUT LOBSTERS 163
just hunting for lost pots ( at $3 a pot ) . Some of them will
be lost for good, having been rolled over and over by the
waves thus winding the warps around the body of the traps
and drawing the buoys down out of sight. Others will have
been shifted by the waves and you zigzag back and forth
over the sea searching for them. You will wearily put for
home with a deckload of smashed pots to be repaired when
you are next stormbound. Up to 30 per cent of a man's pots
are lost each year.
Is your courage strong enough to stand this and look
beyond to see that it is the average results that count, not
just a few days of hard luck?
Or take the period of good weather when lobsters are
plentiful and your catch is good. It is very heartening —
until you sell your catch, and find the price is 15 cents a
pound less than it was yesterday — for there is a glut of
Maybe you say, " This is a hell of a business," or maybe
you get mad at your buyer and shift to another buyer who
offers a quarter cent more per pound.
The top-liner will rarely do either of these things. He
knows that supply governs demand (and prices) and the
dealer shouldn't be blamed. He also knows it doesn't pay
to get mad with his buyer, for the lobsterman who isn't loyal
to his buyer won't find the buyer loyal to him and willing
to take his catch when the buyer is already loaded up.
It is hard to imagine greater narrowmindedness than
that of a fisherman who has been buying gear from his
buyer on credit all winter, yet who shifts from this buyer
during the catching season because someone else offers him
a quarter of a cent more. It happens.
If your home port is a good enough location.
If you live on a harbor which supports 200 lobstermen
but only two buyers, you are in the hands of those buyers
and they can be as arrogant as they please. But if there
are more buyers, you can pick the one who treats you best
year in and year out.
164 ABOUT LOBSTERS
Of course, it may be necessary to switch buyers but the
top-liner does this infrequently. A man who has a record
of often changing jobs is a poor bet for any employer, and
so is the lobsterman who changes his agent often.
It is not easy to pull up stakes and move to another
port, but it is better to start under the best conditions, for
once you have learned your fishing grounds it will be a hard
job to locate the best reefs, etc., out from another port.
Another consideration is the number of lobstermen fish-
ing out of your port. There are too many lobstermen in
Maine as it is; there are so many that only a few can earn
a decent living. And there are only so many lobsters to be
So if there are two lobstermen for each lobster caught,
there is little profit in fishing out of your home port. Educate
yourself on what harbors are most promising. The Depart-
ment of Sea and Shore Fisheries can help you (not just the
wardens, they know only one section of the coast), if you
write to Augusta.
Two other facts to investigate: Can spare parts for your
motor be procured nearby? Is there a dependable source
You have heard the " outs " of becoming a lobsterman,
now consider the advantages.
It is a life of independence.
This is very important to many a man, and perhaps
more so than usual to Maine men. Your pioneer stock had
to stand alone and the trait has not been bred out. It
seems to be common to many men in small coast towns to
rebel against working for a boss; they are not happy in
supervised or confining work, and no man does his best if
he is not happy in his work.
If this independence is a strong part of your nature and
you live by the sea, there isn't much choice in what work
will suit you best.
ABOUT LOBSTERS 165
Oh sure, you can buy a truck and set up an independent
express business of your own, but you are competing against
large concerns and there is the uncertainty of maintaining
profitable runs. One breakdown tying you up for several
days and you have lost a customer, maybe your big one.
Not so with lobstering. You can be laid up with a broken
leg and still get back into business as soon as you are well.
It is a rewarding life.
If you educate yourself to be a top-liner. A few really
good lobstermen clear up to $10,000 a year, and that is
wealth in a small coast town.
There are other rewards too. Maine folk are kindly,
and you will live among them and among people who share
your interests. You will enjoy the winter work in your shop,
building pots, with perhaps some of your cronies or retired
lobstermen sitting around the stove, smoking and yarning.
You will have the satisfaction of actually seeing how
much you have accomplished in each day's haul. Compare
this with a salesman who doesn't get an order on the same
day that he makes his best selling approach. His results are
often in the future when the glow of achievement is gone.
It is a healthy life.
Lobstermen dress to meet the weather, and being out-
doors all day is the healthiest sort of life.
It seems to be a safe life, for few lobstermen are lost at
sea. There is a brotherly feeling among them and if one
man hasn't shown up at night the whole fleet of home boats
will put out and search all night for his broken-down vessel.
Few lobstermen are lost overboard though they are usually
alone and are sometimes careless in how they fling the warp
over the deck when hauling a pot. It is surprising that the
boatman doesn't get his foot caught in a loop of the warp
when the pot is dumped overside. It is probable that ac-
cidents in driving a truck or being run down in a city street
are more common than comparative mishaps in lobstering.
It is an interesting job.
The interest lies in the repeated anticipation of what the
166 ABOUT LOBSTERS
catch will be in the next pot you haul; and, if it is empty,
hope and interest are revived for the succeeding haul.
It is a satisfaction to prove that you have judged cor-
rectly where the lobsters will be thick, and to know exactly
where Fireman's Ledge is located, and recall that it is an
area which hasn't been fished by anyone in over a month —
it used to be fine fishing grounds until everyone learned of
it and fished it out.
It is a satisfaction to prove your sense of direction and
to find your next string of pots in a dense fog. It pleases
you to see that Harry Jones has dropped his pots 200 yards
too far to the east of Jenkins Ledge. You know exactly where
it is because you took cross bearings on its position and
wrote them down (one top-liner has done this for every
good fishing spot in his area) and you'll chuckle tomorrow
when you see Harry Jones has moved his pots up alongside
of yours — after you've caught the cream of the lobsters.
The art of being a top-liner can be passed along.
To your son, for instance, and it might be a more valu-
able inheritance than your real estate, that is, if he is ready
to learn and you spur him on to be a better fisherman than
even you are. It is a great satisfaction to see your boy
bring in better catches than you do — because he knows
more about lobsters than you.
He can learn not only from you, but from publications
of the Maine Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries and
Further Steps :
Do you want to advance to become a buyer?
It is the next step above being a lobsterman. But the
job has problems and requires you to have an education.
In the first place you would need capital:
1. To pay cash for the lobsters.
2. To buy bait.
3. To furnish credit to lobstermen when they are out-
ABOUT LOBSTERS 167
4. To carry the tanked lobsters over a slump in the
This sounds easy — but buying and selling lobsters is
a risky business. Education for a buyer is much more ex-
pensive than it is for a fisherman. Note the number of new
buyers who go out of business after one or two seasons.
You won't acquire overnight the judgment on how
much to pay your fishermen, or whether to unload your
stock of lobsters in anticipation of a falling market, or which
lobsterman you can safely give credit to. Will you want to
go it alone or will you be smart enough to see the advantages
of joining with other dealers in a sort of union to overcome
the small jealousies that continually crop up?
The present-day dealers had to start small and learn
through mistakes. You can too if your mistakes are not too
Do you want to take the next step and operate a pound?
This is the biggest risk of all, but it is the operation
which can bring in the real money. It takes the most
capital too — buying the pound — and stocking it with many
thousands of pounds of lobsters, and holding them for the
high prices of winter. It sounds as though only capital
were necessary to make pounding a success. But the risks
are there and they are the biggest risks of all.
A few seasons ago a pound owner of two generations
of experience lost all his lobsters ( 20,000 pounds ) , and even
Sea and §hore Fisheries experts aren't sure why. In another
and smaller pound all the lobsters died because of an influx
of fresh water from spring freshets. And there is always
the threat of red-tail disease.
On the other hand, there seem to be fewer failures
among pound operators than in other branches of lobstering.
Perhaps they know more.
It is certainly reasonable that if you buy soft-shelled
lobsters at a reduced price and lighter weight, and can hold
them until they harden up and flesh out, you can make a
handsome profit when the price goes way up (as it does in
168 ABOUT LOBSTERS
winter). Many pounds stock up and unload several times
Would you want to step into wholesaling?
This branch of lohstering is somewhat different from the
previously discussed branches of the industry. It requires
a profound knowledge of the market, for it is the wholesaler
who determines the prices paid all down the line, even to
the fisherman. And it requires a clientele of customers.
One firm in Rockland was started by a man whose main
asset was a list of New York customers to whom he had
previously sold on commission. His market was all set up
and waiting before he commenced wholesale buying.
To sum up:
The lobster industry is big business.
It can be a good career for you if you will educate
yourself and aim high.
You can go as far as your abilities and knowledge will
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Meat of the Lobster's Claw." S&SF*: Research Bulletin #2 (March,
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Bramsnaes, F., and Boetius, Jan, " Storage of Live Lobsters." Physi-
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170 ABOUT LOBSTERS
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