Maine Lobster and Other Fishery Adventures

On my vacation, Bob and I took a tour with Natalie Springuel from The Natural History Center in Bar Harbor to learn about Maine fisheries. As you know, I organize green lifestyle tours at the Summit, and this was my first time being a participant for someone else’s tour. It was so fun!

The Amazing Journey of Eels

Natalie took us to see an estuary where eels come to mature. Eels lay their eggs out in the Sargasso Sea out in the North Atlantic, and then somehow their young know to swim all the way here to Maine to this exact river, even though they have never been here before.

People have fished for eels here for ages, but in the last year, the fishery has taken off. The market for baby eel in Japan increased dramatically after the tsunami. Fishermen can now sell baby eels for $2,000 a pound. The eels are taken to Asia to be raised to an edible size. It was bizarre enough to imagine the eels journey from this river to the Sargasso Sea, but now add the bizarre journey to Asia and you know we live in a surreal world.

Eel habitat at Bar Harbor, Maine

Eel habitat at Bar Harbor, Maine

Breeding Baby Lobsters

Next we visited the Oceanarium. We saw how they raise baby lobsters from eggs. It is illegal to have a female lobster filled with eggs as part of the efforts to conserve the fishery, but they have special permits and work with local fishermen to bring in such lobsters. A smaller lobster may have 1,000 eggs while a larger one may have 100,000 stuck on to her underbelly. The female lobster leans back on a rock and squeezes out those eggs, using her legs to attach them. She carries them around unfertilized for a year. Then she looks for a mate. She will only mate with a male lobster who is bigger than she is. Smaller ones, she eats! So that is why fishermen will throw back both male and female lobsters who weigh more than five pounds.

Female lobster with eggs at the Oceanarium in Bar Harbor

Female lobster with eggs at the Oceanarium in Bar Harbor

They put the females with eggs who into a brooding tank and slowly the baby lobsters pop off. They scoop out the babies and put them into large tanks which they fill often with “sea monkeys” or brine shrimp. The baby lobsters pig out on the brine shrimp (and each other, if they can catch another lobster).

Tanks filled with baby lobsters at the Oceanarium

Tanks filled with baby lobsters at the Oceanarium

Once the lobsters are big enough, they go out in a boat and string a garden hose down to the bottom. They slowly drive along dropping off baby lobsters. If they threw them overboard from a bucket, or emptied them all in one spot on the bottom, it would become a feeding frenzy, so they keep the hose moving.

Why do they do this? Mostly so we can learn about lobsters, because the fishermen have done a great job conserving the local lobster populations. They do not need to breed baby lobsters in this labor-intensive way for the fishery. But it sure is cool to learn about it!

Busy Life at a Lobster Pier

Another highlight of the tour was visiting Beal’s Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor. Rob Bauer busily helped lobstermen offload their catches. Despite the high volume of boats coming to the pier, Rob had the whole tour laughing as he taught us how to run a lobster pier.

Offloading lobster at Beal's Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor, Maine

Offloading lobster at Beal’s Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor, Maine

Rob explained how the season was picking up, and the center of the season was right in this part of Maine. Farther south, the lobsters were just not as numerous, and he was quick to say it was due to climate change. He noted that climate change was raising the temperatures of the ocean and causing many lobsters to the south to have diseases growing on their shells.

I found it interesting to hear from Rob about how the lobster industry is changing. He noted that while mostly older folks like to eat their lobster “in the rough” i.e. straight from the shell, younger people tend to want their lobster already picked. I loved his comment that younger people would love to have an app to eat their lobster. 🙂

Rob ships lobsters to customers from all over the United States. He talked about how comments about lobsters on social media can impact sales. If someone had a negative experience and tweets, it can actually pull down the price for these hard-working folks, whereas if someone writes that they had a positive experience, the price can rise. As I watched these fishermen carefully weighing their day’s work, it seemed almost as unpredictable as the fishery itself.

Rob moved quickly from task to task with a joke for everyone. I don’t know for sure if he loves his job, but he sure looked like he enjoyed each person and how things kept moving.

Thank you Natalie, Rob and all the folks who shared their knowledge on the fisheries tour!

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