Celebrate the Legacy of Maine Lobster for National Lobster Day 2016
Someone once said, "A truly destitute man is not one without riches, but the poor wretch who has never partaken of lobster.” If you love these tasty terrors of the deep, then Sunday, Sept. 25, which is National Lobster Day, is the trifecta of homard happiness.
This celebration is the perfect excuse to hear some lobster lore (on video) and call up a few friends to help you indulge in crustacean gluttony. Who knows, there may even be some goofy bibs and lobster-themed table accessories. So how did this love of lobster come about in the first place?
As American as Lobster
Americans adore live Maine lobster and will order it for special occasions, fly it in from Maine, and have given it important scenes in movies. Nostalgia for Mainers’ gruff independence, isolation, and willingness to brave dangerous seas in pursuit of Larry lobster is ingrained in our nation’s psyche. Plying the open seas at the mercy of nature is just part of the mystique, but it’s also real and our respect for the hard work the lobstermen do is genuine.
Maine lobster fishing is a 400 year old bit of Americana that is as authentic today as it was in 1605 when the first recorded lobster catch was made by captain George Waymouth and his crew aboard the boat the Archangel. They cast a net just off shore of the island of Monhegan and were pleasantly surprised to have pulled up a generous haul of fish and many “great lobsters.”
A Family Legacy
The lobster fisheries in Maine are unique because many of the same families have been plying the craggy granite coasts for more than 150 years. Lobster fishing has been handed down from father to son, or daughter, in an unbroken line and for most lobsterman they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sonny Beal is a lobsterman in Downeast Maine at Beals Island and he can’t imagine doing anything else. Beal says he loves being a lobsterman for “The true romance of it all. Sailing out in the morning watching the dark sky turn orange and knowing that I will be one of the first people in the country to see the sunrise. As the sun breaks over the horizon it energies me to work harder, yet challenges me not to stop and watch it rise.”
“Just working on the ocean makes you appreciate Mother Nature with all the birds and sea creatures that we see. Not knowing what weird thing might come up in the trap that needs to have its picture taken. Every day we do the same thing, but every day I see something different. Also showing people what I do. I love taking people on the boat and showing them about lobstering. Nothing feels better than catching your own supper.”
Sonny gets his passion for lobstering naturally—it’s in his blood. “I've been lobstering since I was four or five when I went with my father. I got my first boat when I was 12 and other than a short winter stint working for an electronics company after college, I've been doing it ever since.” His current boat, the Nancy Anne, is named after his mother, and it’s his father’s old boat.
He’s not the first, or last, in his family to want to head out to sea. “I'm a third generation lobsterman starting with my grandfather, but I've heard that my grandmother came from an older fishing family,” said Sonny. “I have two boys, nine and eleven and they both have lobster licenses and their own boat and traps. (They share the boat). I haul their traps with them. They are both members of the MLA (Maine Lobstermen’s Association) as well. They love fishing and love being on the water. I call it #growingupsalty.”
Sustaining a Way of Life
Lobstermen are fiercely independent but also protective of their fishing grounds. Lobstermen like Sonny work closely with the government and fisheries management groups to keep the lobster populations healthy and protect from overfishing. Today, the heart of this movement is the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative (MLMC), which is made up of Maine lobstermen, dealers, and processors.
As Sonny points out, “Maine Lobsters are hand caught by small day boats that are owned and operated by independent fishermen. Each boat tends their own traps that are signified by their own buoy color attached to their traps. We have a sustainable industry that has been built by lobstermen themselves. We invented the V-Notch law, which states that we have to mark a breeding female so it cannot be caught and sold. Even if she is caught and not laden with eggs, she will still have this notch in a specific flipper, signifying that she cannot be kept and must be thrown back into the water. We also have a size limit that keeps “juveniles” (small ones) and "seniors" (large ones that contribute to and produce the most eggs) from being sold. Any lobster we catch and keep must have a carapace larger than 3 ¼ inches but smaller than five inches.”
Lobstermen like Sonny work together to with MLMC, chefs, and the media to increase public awareness of, and demand for, Maine lobster and protect the fisheries’ vitality and the future of lobster fishing for generations to come. Their goal is to encourage more Americans to eat Maine lobster by mainstreaming it so it’s no longer a luxury item. To do this, lobstermen are hauling huge catches and working to keep populations healthy and plentiful so lobster can be as quotidien in our diets as chicken or salmon.
A Chef’s Perspective
To whet the public’s appetite for lobster, MLMC has created a collaboration between chefs like Top Chef contestant Kwame Onwuachi and lobstermen to help consumers learn how to cook lobster at home and include it in recipes. Chef Onwuachi is quick to point out that “the Maine lobster industry practices some of the most sustainable harvesting procedures. They measure and inspect each and every lobster that they pull out of the water. For example, if a lobster has eggs, they notch the tail and throw it back so that other lobstermen will know that the lobster is a breeder so it can continue to reproduce. If the lobster is too small, they throw it back so it can grow to the proper size required by regulations. It is so important for cooks to know and appreciate how their food is harvested.”
The quality of the ingredients is paramount for chefs, and Kwame works with Maine lobstermen because, as he says, “I really appreciate the respect for the animal. There are very few animals that we receive live so you have to take care in every aspect, from storing it to cooking it. I love Maine Lobster’s versatility – the shell can be used as part of a sauce, the knuckle meat is so tender and great in pasta, or the whole lobster, just boiled whole with drawn butter.” When someone else is doing the cooking, chef Kwame’s “favorite lobster dish is a Maine Lobster roll from Eventide in Portland, Maine. You’ll have to ask them for the recipe!”
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