The Lobster Coast from Canada to Massachusetts

The American lobster, or Maine Lobster, did not become a popular food until the year 1850, when people from the big cities like Boston and New York began spending their summers in Maine. Gradually these visitors developed a taste for lobster. Prior to that, eating lobster was a mark of poverty or was used as food for indentured servant’s or lower-level members of society.

Around that time lobster began to be harvested commercially from the Canadian Maritime Provinces such as Prince Edward Island, and all along the coast of Maine and Massachusetts. By 1880, nearly 2,000 fisherman earned a living catching lobster, with most of the harvest being sold to the Maine lobster cannery industry. About a third were sold live for local use.

A lobster boat leaves Stueben, Maine early one summer morning
Boats in Steuben, Maine

Only 10 years later reckless over fishing that included the capture of young female lobsters before they could spawn nearly destroyed the industry. The state of Maine in the 1880s began to pass strict new laws regulating the harvest. The new rules restricted size and forbid the capture of egg bearing females. Because of these rules, the canneries left Maine and moved to Canada, where there were no laws regulating the lobster catch.

But even with the new rules, the lobster harvest was cut in half. Following the stock market crash of 1929, the industry nearly disappeared. But improvements in the transportation system suddenly allowed live lobster to be shipped from the lobster coast to urban centers. Lobster became a luxury food and a major tourist attraction for New England. An industry was born.

Today, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, nearly 9,000 licensed fishermen make their living along the lobster coast, catching lobster in the wild much the same way as they did 100 years ago. What new is that thanks to overnight delivery services such as UPS and FedEx, lobster now can go from dock to dinner tables anywhere in the country. Online lobster services can speed a box of live Maine lobster from Boston to California in less than 24 hours.

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