Maine Lobster: The Most Expensive Cold Water Lobsters

For those visiting Maine, sampling the state's renowned lobster is essential. Thriving in the cool Atlantic waters, these lobsters account for a significant portion of the U.S. catch. Understanding the factors that contribute to their pricing helps appreciate their value.

Maine Lobster: The Most Expensive Cold Water Lobsters
Maine Lobster by Yale Peabody Museum via Wikimedia Commons

Maine lobster is a must-try delicacy for anyone visiting the state. These exquisite crustaceans thrive in the chilly Atlantic waters along Maine's coast, contributing to over half of the lobster harvest in the United States.

However, the cost of lobster is on the rise, influenced by inflation and regulations affecting the industry. The intricacies of modern lobster fishing, especially in this season, present additional challenges.

It's no secret that Maine lobster comes with a hefty price tag, often leading us to question its high cost. Despite this, the unparalleled taste of authentic Maine lobster justifies its premium, making it a worthwhile indulgence.

Let's explore what goes into the pricing of Maine lobsters to better understand the value behind each pound you purchase.

History and Origin of Maine Lobsters

Maine lobster, also referred to as American Lobster, is celebrated for its exceptional freshness and delectable flavor.

The state of Maine boasts a long-standing tradition of lobster fishing, a practice that dates back to the mid 1800's. This industry isn't just a business in Maine; it's a cultural heritage.

Generations of families have dedicated themselves to the lobster trade, encompassing everything from harvesting to restaurant management and lobster trap crafting. This deep-rooted history is a testament to the importance of lobster in Maine's way of life.

What Is Maine Lobster?

American Lobster - CC BY-SA 2.0 ,by Dennis Jarvis from Halifax via Wikimedia Commons

The Maine lobster (Homarus americanus), also recognized as the American Lobster or "true lobster," is a treasured seafood delicacy known for its fresh and rich flavor.

Sourced from the cold waters of the Atlantic off Maine's coast, this crustacean is a culinary icon and a vital part of the state's cultural fabric.

Featuring a long body with ten legs – including two sizable claws and eight smaller legs for mobility – the Maine lobster is distinguished by its large claws, which contribute significantly to its weight.

Its shell, typically in hues of brown, green, or black, may display spots and even rare colors like calico, yellow, orange, or blue. Notably, upon cooking, the lobster's shell transforms into a striking red color, adding to its visual appeal.

Different Types of Lobsters: Cold Vs. Warm Water

Lobsters are primarily divided into two types: clawed lobsters and spiny lobsters. Clawed lobsters, including the famous Maine or American lobster, have large claws and are found in colder waters like the North Atlantic.

Clawed lobsters, like the famous Maine lobster, are celebrated for their meaty claws and tails.

In contrast, spiny lobsters, which inhabit warmer waters like those near Florida or the Caribbean, do not have large claws and are primarily valued for their tail meat.

Adding to the lore of lobsters, the pearl lobster is known as the world's most expensive lobster. This rare lobster is coveted for its unique appearance and scarcity, contributing to its high market value and status as a luxury seafood item.

They are recognized by their long, spiny antennae and are valued for their tail meat. Both types offer distinct textures and flavors, making them popular in various culinary traditions around the world.

Types of Maine Lobster

In Maine, lobster varieties are classified into two types: hard-shell and soft-shell. Lobsters with soft shells are those that have recently molted, leaving them with a less rigid exterior and typically less meat. These soft-shell lobsters are often more affordable due to these characteristics.

Conversely, hard-shell lobsters are preferred for both trapping and culinary purposes, as they provide meat that is not only firmer but also richer in flavor.

Maine lobsters belong to the cold-water lobster category, thriving in the consistently cool temperatures of the northern Atlantic Ocean.

This environment contributes to their meat being whiter, firmer, and having a subtly sweet taste upon cooking.

While commonly referred to as Maine lobsters, these crustaceans are known by various other names in different regions, including New England lobster, Boston lobster, Atlantic lobster, and Northern lobster, reflecting their widespread recognition across the northeastern United States.

The minimum legal size for lobsters is set at 3 1/4 inches in carapace length. Lobsters falling below this size are termed as "shorts" or "snappers" and are required to be released back into the sea.

Why Is American Lobster so Expensive?

Lobster Fishing Are Seasonal

Lobster fishing occurs year-round, but the best times to purchase hard-shell lobsters are typically late spring (May to June) and fall (October to November).

Conversely, new shell lobsters are primarily caught from late summer through early fall.

Live Maine lobster is accessible throughout the year, with a significant portion of the catch happening in summer and fall.

During the winter, many lobstermen withdraw their traps to protect them from damage during Nor'easters and other severe storms.

Lobster pricing is influenced by supply and demand, as well as weather conditions, which can unpredictably affect supply. Recent years have seen shifts in the typical lobster season pattern.

Lobster prices tend to increase around Memorial Day, decreasing towards the end of the season around Labor Day weekend.

May and September are optimal months for purchasing hard-shell lobsters. During June and July, when lobster molting is most intense, soft-shell lobsters dominate the local market.

Bait Price Surge in Fishing Industry

The lobster industry has been grappling with several challenges that have impacted catches and costs.

The price of bait has surged, escalating from $30 to approximately $100 per tray, while fuel expenses have tripled.

This increase in operational costs has made it difficult for fishermen to break even, especially when catches are smaller and market prices don't meet expectations, leading to situations where earning a profit becomes challenging at around $5 per pound.

Lobstering Sustainability: Trapping Requirements

Maine enforces stringent regulations on lobster fishing to ensure sustainability. Lobster traps cannot be operated at night or on Sundays from June to August, a rule in place since 1967.

Maine mandates specific size limits for lobsters: they must not be too small or too large. Lobstermen use a special gauge to measure the carapace length, from the eye socket to the start of the tail, to comply with these size restrictions.

The minimum size ensures lobsters have the opportunity to breed at least once before being caught.

Additionally, when a lobsterwoman or lobsterman encounters a female lobster carrying eggs, Maine law requires marking a V-notch on the right tail flipper before releasing her, to aid in conservation and breeding efforts.

The maximum allowable carapace length is 5 inches, known as “jumbos,” to protect the breeding population.

A minimum size lobster typically weighs around 1 pound, whereas a maximum size lobster ranges from 3-4 pounds. The most common and sought-after size for Maine Lobster is between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 pounds.

To distinguish the gender of a lobster, observe the first pair of swimmerets located on the underside of the lobster. In males, these swimmerets are larger and have a harder texture, whereas in females, they are smaller and softer.

Texture and Flavor Profile

Maine Lobster's flavor and texture vary between soft-shell and hard-shell varieties.

Soft-shell lobsters, which have recently molted, offer tender, slightly sweeter meat that's easier to eat, but typically have less meat and a higher water content.

This results in a more delicate and subtle flavor profile. Hard-shell lobsters, on the other hand, have firmer, denser meat with a more pronounced and robust flavor, reflecting their longer growth period in the cold Atlantic waters.

Both types boast the signature sweet, succulent taste Maine Lobster is renowned for, but the texture and intensity of flavor differ noticeably between the two.

Price of Maine Lobster

In major cities, a lobster dinner, often considered a luxury, usually ranks among the most expensive items on a restaurant's menu.

For a moderate-sized lobster, weighing between 1 to 1.5 pounds, diners can expect to pay between $40 and $60.

This cost can vary depending on the restaurant's location and the time of year, with potential fluctuations reflecting seasonal availability and dining venue prestige.