When is lobster season?
- Rebecca Valentine
I am new to New England (from Philadelphia). I have a few general questions for the Southern Maine/NH Seacoast chowhounds about lobsters.
When is the best time to eat lobsters? When will lobsters become soft-shell?
Where is a good place to eat lobster in southern Maine and southern New Hampshire?
Also, I know there is a lobster size restriction in Maine, is there one in NH? I have seen some HUGE lobsters in the tank in Walmart/Sams in New Hampshre. How do people eat them? Are the shells crackable with regular cracker? Will the big lobstersbecome soft- shelled?
There is no season for "season" for lobster, per-say.
Lobsters follow the "warmth" of the water, so they move from the deeper water to shallower water in the summer months. Because of this it is easier to catch them in the summer, boats don't have to go out as far. Because they are easier to catch the old supply and demand factor kicks in and the price becomes more attractive.
Lobsters shed their shell, usually in the spring, and grow a new one. These new shells are where the soft shells come from. All lobsters shed their shell as they outgrow their old one. I don't know all the details, but I suspect the larger a lobster gets the slower it grows hence the less often it sheds.
I personally prefer the hard shell lobster, and in my humble opinion right now is the perfect time for eating lobster. A hard shell, just before the shed, will be stuffed with meat. A soft shell, while easier to eat, will have less meat inside the shell. Some people think the soft shell has "sweeter" meat.
The negative part of the hard shell lobster is the price, because there is less supply (winter and all) they tend to be more $/lb. I haven't checked lately, but someone told me that lobster is currently going for around $10/lb - too rich for my blood.
Being a local, I rarely eat "whole" lobster in a restaurant. Very easy to cook at home, get a big pot, put about 2 inches of water in it, add a dose of salt (~1/4 cup), bring to a boil. Once boiling drop your live and kicking lobsters in head first and cover. Regardless of the number of lobsters, they are done in 20 minutes after the water starts boiling again.
I tend to get Lobster Rolls in restaurants instead of the whole bug.
For restaurants - Barnacle Billies in Ogunquit, ME - opens this weekend. Browns or Markey's in the Seabrook Beach/Hampton Beach area of S. NH. Browns and Markeys are BYOB. Barnacle Billies has a full bar. There are many many more.
The prices drop to about $3/lb in the summer when the water warms up.. last year we had a real cold winter, the water didnt warm up much and the prices didnt really get below $4.
Oh, I live in Kittery and my 2 favorite places are Morrisons (on Badger Island with a view of Portsmouth) and Chauncey Creek (gets real crazy in the peak of summer, go midweek or before/after summer, opens May 8).. both are BYO (beeer, bread, candles, salad, tableclothes etc!)....
regarding size restrictions - pretty much all states have size restrictions to protect the industry. The size restriction allows the lobster to grow enough so that it has the chance to reproduce at least once before it ends up in your stewpot. There is no restrictions on how large the lobster can be only on how small the lobster can be. Lobsters do not grow very quickly so the giant ones occasionally seen in tanks are very, very old - I do not know if those are farmed or what, I know big ones in the wild have become increasingly rare - I personally can't bring myself to eat one like that, I feel so guilty. Here in CT, locally caught great big lobsters usually end up on display at the aquarium. But like I said, it doesn't happen very often.
There are great places to eat lobster all along the coast from Connecticut to Maine.
Maine has for has long as I can remember had a size limit regulation. The largest I've seen in a fish market or lobster pound is 1 1/2 - 2 lbs max. Maine has seen a very difficult time in the past 5 years as the ground fisheries have been depleted and commercial regs have forced many if not most gill netters and draggers away from netting and into lobstering. This has put additional pressure on an already over fished species.
There are restrictions on both minimum and maximum sizes for lobsters. Here are the regulations on Maine Lobster minimum and maximum length. Maine lobster is the general name for the lobsters with the large claws that live in the Atlantic coastal waters, not just lobsters caught in Maine waters. A person may not buy, sell, give away, transport, ship or possess any lobster that is less than the minimum size established in this subsection or more than 5 inches in length, as determined by the state double gauge lobster measure. Except as provided in this subsection, the minimum lobster size is 3 8/32 inches. On March 1st of the year after the year in which the Attorney General issues the certification, the minimum size is 3 9/32 inches; and On March 1st of the following year, the minimum size is 3 10/32 inches.
These stated lengths are for the main body shell segment, measurement shall be made from the rear of the eye socket along a line parallel to the center line of the body shell to the rear end of the body shell.
These regulations are for Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The main "Maine lobster" fishing areas.
In the summer (generally July and August) lobsters shed their shells so that they can grow. Once the lobsters have shed their old shells, there are new, soft shells underneath. Soft shells can be broken open easily by hand without nutcrackers. These shells will harden over the course of time and as the water gets colder. Since the lobsters shed their shells in order to have room for growth the following year, there is less meat inside a soft-shell lobster than there is in a hard-shell lobster of the same size, There is almost 50% more meat in a hard shell vs soft shell of the same size (this also accounts for their lower prices). Even though there is less meat in soft-shells than in hard-shells, many people prefer the taste of the soft-shells. They are considered sweeter and more tender than the hard-shells.
Legally, lobster fishermen in Maine may fish year round. However, most fishermen either do not fish in the winter, or they fish for other products such as shrimp and sea clams. Lobsters are least expensive in the summer when there are many people fishing and soft-shell lobsters are available.
The largest lobsters today weigh about 35 to 40 pounds. These are rare and not usually seen on a regular basis. It takes lobsters an average of 5 to 7 years (depending on the water temperature) to grow to legal size (at this size they weigh about 1- 1 1/4lb.), and they grow more slowly as they get larger. Therefore a lobster that weighs 3 pounds is an estimated 15-20 years old, and a 25 pound lobster would be approximately 75-100 years old.
A person may not buy, sell, give away, transport, ship or possess any lobster that is less than the minimum size established in this subsection or more than 5 inches in length, as determined by the state double gauge lobster measure. Except as provided in this subsection, the minimum lobster size is 3 8/32 inches. Upon written certification by the Attorney General under paragraph B, the minimum lobster size increases as follows: On March 1st of the year after the year in which the Attorney General issues the certification, the minimum size is 3 9/32 inches; and
On March 1st of the following year, the minimum size is 3 10/32 inches.
These regulations cover Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.