America’s in the Midst of a Lobster Boom

With the lobster catch up sixfold in the last 30 years, can we eat without worry?

Lobster Fishing
Richard Schultz/Corbis

Many people consider lobster dinners fancy affairs—the stuff of white napkins and antique silver forks. But nowadays, lobster isn’t that rare, writes Gwynn Guilford for Quartz. America is in the midst of a bonafide lobster boom.

At the heart of the boom is something simple, reports Guilford: Lots and lots of supply. Fishermen in Maine caught six times more lobster in 2014 than 30 years before. Demand isn't lacking either. Lobster is so popular that the price of a pound just hit $4 in Maine—the highest level since 2007.

Why the big boom? Biologists aren’t quite sure, reports Guilford:

A rise in sea temperatures, which has sped up lobster growth and opened up new coastal habitats for baby lobsters, is one likely reason. Another is that by plundering cod and other big fish in the Gulf of Maine, we’ve thinned out the predators that long kept lobster numbers in check. Both are strong hypotheses, yet no one’s sure we really understand what’s going on.

There could be another reason why things are looking up for lobsters: Conservation by lobstermen. The lobster industry has been forward-thinking compared to other fishing industries, writes Guilford. In the early 1900's, lobstermen worked closely with scientists and lawmakers to create and enforce policies that protect breeding lobsters instead of just their babies.

Lobstering is regulated by a number of federal laws, and Maine fisheries and governments cooperate with the help of the University of Maine Lobster Institute. Lobstermen also take an active part in conservation by marking (and refusing to kill) egg-bearing female lobsters. 

But all is not exactly well in lobster land. Fishermen are starting to worry that lobster predators like the black sea bass could ruin the record-setting haul, The Associated Press reports. Lobster nurseries—regions of the deep sea where baby lobsters live—are also being threatened by climate change that is causing “significant declines” in the number and distribution of baby lobsters, according to a recent study published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science.

There could also be a clue to what’s going on in the history of the food’s gourmet reputation. Lobster has wavered between poor man’s grub and rich man’s delicacy for centuries, Daniel Luzer writes for Pacific Standard. Perhaps that historic cycle points to a potential bust ahead. 

For now at least, lobster lovers are digging in to the abundant clawed creatures with gusto.

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