American Lobster

American Lobster
Common Name American Lobster
Market Name lobster
Scientific name Homarus americanus

Sourcing Summary

Size

1-4 lbs.

American lobster is caught year-round in the United States, peaking in summer and early fall. In Canada, seasons vary but generally landings peak in May and June and once again in December. The best time to buy is in May when the Canadian Gulf of St. Lawrence fishery opens and summer demand has not started. Post-Labor Day can be good because landings from Maine are strong and summer demand has dropped. Buying lobster from Maine in early summer can include soft-shell lobsters, a.k.a. "shedders," which can have poorer meat fill. Most lobsters are sold live by size grade (in lbs.): chickens (.75-1.0), heavy chickens (1.0-1.25), quarters (1.25-1.50), selects (1.50-1.75), deuces (1.75-2.0), heavy selects (2.0-2.25), small jumbos (2.25-2.50), and jumbos (2.50-4.0).

Key sustainability sourcing notes for American lobster based on combining landings data from 2012-2014/2015 and the most recent 2006 (Canada) and 2012 (United States) Seafood Watch assessments and seven MSC-certified fisheries in the U.S. (2) and Canada (5) from 2013-2016:

  • ~95% of American lobster landings are MSC-certified (both U.S. and Canada landings ~95%)
  • ~99% of American lobster landings meet a Seafood Watch "Good Alternative (yellow)" rating (100% of Canada, ~97% of U.S. landings)
  • ~1% of American lobster landings meet a Seafood Watch "Avoid (red)" rating (Southern New England stock)
  • U.S. landings from 2012-2015 have remained very steady, only fluctuating 2-3% year-to-year (~85% of U.S. landings are from Maine and ~10% from Massachusetts)
  • Canadian landings from 2012-2014 increased ~25%


Product Forms

Fresh/Frozen
Fresh
Product Forms
Live
Fresh/Frozen
Frozen
Product Forms
Claws
Tail
Whole

Fresh Seasonal Availability

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
yesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyes

Culinary Composition

Firm

Texture

Cooking Methods

Health/Nutrition

Nutrition facts

Serving Size: 100g
Amount per serving
Calories 90
Total Fat 1g
Cholesterol 95mg
Sodium 296mg
Carbohydrates 0g
Protein 19g
Omega-3 0g

Biology

American lobsters have 10 legs, two of which are large claws. One claw is used to crush shells; the other has edges resembling a steak knife and is used to tear soft flesh. Alive, they have an olive-green or green-brown coloring and turn red after they are cooked.

It is difficult to determine the exact age of American lobsters because they molt and shed their shells as they grow. Scientists believe they can live up to 100 years old. American lobsters grow up to three feet in length (about one meter) and can weigh up to 44 pounds. Lobsters grow by molting. They shed their old shells while simultaneously absorbing water, thus expanding their body size. Within the first five to seven years of their life, lobsters molt about 25 times. Once they are older, they molt once per year. It takes two to five years for a lobster to grow to legal harvesting size. American lobsters eat voraciously after they molt, often consuming their recently vacated shells. This replenishes lost calcium and helps to harden their new shells.

Lobsters typically mate after the females molt. Males will deposit their sperm in the soft-shelled females, who store them on the underside of their tails for up to a year. Females can produce between 5,000 and 100,000 eggs, which are fertilized as they are released in late spring or early summer. The free-swimming larvae molt four times before they resemble adults, and settle on the ocean floor. 

American lobster diets vary regionally because they are opportunistic feeders, feeding on whatever prey is most abundant. Larvae and juveniles mainly eat zooplankton. Adults feed on a variety of crabs, mollusks, worms, sea urchins, sea stars, fish, and macroalgae. A variety of bottom-dwellers prey upon lobsters, including fish, sharks, rays, skates, crabs, and octopuses. Young lobsters are more vulnerable to predators than large lobsters because of their softer, less-developed shells.

Species Habitat

American lobsters occur in the northwest Atlantic Ocean from Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Both inshore and offshore populations occur in the US. They are most abundant from Maine to New Jersey in inshore, coastal waters with abundance declining from north to south. Coastal lobsters inhabit a variety of benthic habitats and prefer rocky areas with crevices where they can find shelter as well as mud bottoms they can burrow into. Inshore lobsters generally inhabit depths between 13 and 164 feet (four and 50 meters) deep and do not regularly migrate.

Offshore, American lobsters occur from Maine through North Carolina along the edge of the continental shelf near underwater canyons. Offshore lobsters can occur up to depths to 2,300 feet and conduct extensive migrations of about 50 to 190 miles during the spring. Three U.S. stocks have been identified based on differences in life history parameters as well as biogeographic and biophysical differences. These stocks are the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, and Southern New England stocks. Of these three stocks, the Gulf of Maine and Southern New England stocks are predominantly inshore fisheries, while the Georges Bank stock is predominantly an offshore fishery. Both adult and juveniles can be found in water temperatures ranging from 32 up to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (zero up to 20 degrees Celsius). After that, American lobsters hit a “stress threshold” in which prolonged exposure produces adverse health problems for the lobster and can ultimately lead to its death.  As ocean temperatures increase as a result of climate change, the Southern New England stock, as well as other populations, are moving to cooler, offshore or northern waters – disrupting the natural life history of the species. 

Science & Management

Wild
Science

The New England Aquarium is developing techniques to breed American lobsters and is analyzing the economic feasibility of commercial American lobster aquaculture. Lobster farming requires a lot of space and maintenance. Larvae are very aggressive in captivity and must be kept moving by creating a current in the basin until the post-larvae stage. Afterward, each individual must be isolated to prevent fighting and cannibalism. Water temperatures must also be meticulously maintained for each larval stage, as well as to grow lobster more rapidly than they grow in the wild. Currently, most farmed lobster are released back into the wild while they are still young in order to increase natural populations.

Many states have established ventless trap surveys to quantify the abundance of juvenile lobsters. These surveys work better than trawl surveys because they work on rocky and ledge habitats, as well as in areas where static gear (such as lobster pots and gillnets) are set. The ventless traps are designed to collect information about catch rates of sublegal lobster, which represents future recruitment to the fishery. Traps are randomly placed in groups of six between June and November in certain depth categories and geographic areas. They sit for three nights at a time, and the biological information for the lobster caught is recorded, such as shell disease condition, sex, egg-bearing status, and carapace (upper shell) length. The ventless traps improve scientists’ ability to estimate and predict trends in small and sublegal lobster that have not been caught, as well as provide information about changes in length structure over time for males and females.

In 1999, a large lobster die-off occurred in the Long Island Sound. A study by the Connecticut Sea Grant program on the incident determined that the lobster population was severely stressed due to “hostile environmental conditions” driven by above-average water temperatures. That year, scientists also identified a new lobster disease called paramoebiasis that is caused by the parasite, paramoebae. This parasite invades and attacks a lobster’s nervous tissue – ultimately leading to the lobster’s death. The parasite was found in 94 percent of the lobsters scientists tested in Long Island Sound during 1999. Scientists determined that the parasite was so successful at invading the Long Island Sound lobster population because the lobster’s immune system was weakened during a period of sustained high-stress, above average temperatures. These studies are important as lobsters are especially sensitive to increases in temperature and as climate change continues to cause sea temperatures to rise throughout the world’s oceans.  

Management

American lobster is one the most commercially and culturally significant fisheries in the US with annual landings being valued at over US $500 million (in 2014). The majority of landings occur in Maine and in Massachusetts respectively – with the two states accounting for 94 percent of the total US catch. There are three main stocks of American lobster in the US: the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, and Southern New England stocks. Of these three stocks, the Gulf of Maine and Southern New England stocks are primarily inshore fisheries and the Georges Bank stock is primarily an offshore fishery. Roughly 94 percent of coastal, inshore landings occur in the Gulf of Maine.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and NOAA Fisheries cooperatively manage the US American lobster fishery under the framework of the ASFMC. The ASMFC is a regulatory body made up of the 15 coastal Atlantic states and is responsible for managing the American lobster fishery in state waters (up to three miles offshore) under the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for American Lobster. NOAA Fisheries implements complementary regulations for US offshore waters (three to 200 miles from shore) under the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act. US Management of American lobster is divided between the three aforementioned stock areas as well as seven specific management areas. Of the seven management areas, six of the seven are made up of both state and federal waters whereas only one area is entirely within state jurisdiction. Each management area has a Lobster Conservation Management Team made up of industry representatives that recommend measures to address the specific needs within their management area. These recommendations are then brought to the ASFMC Lobster Management Board that is made of up three representatives for each lobster harvesting state and one representative from NOAA Fisheries. The Management Board deliberates and ultimately votes on management measures for the American lobster fishery (each state has one vote as does NOAA). 

While each management area has specific regulations, management measures between the areas are often similar and generally include:

  • Size limits (both minimum and maximum size);
  • Trap limits;
  • Measures to protect egg-bearing females – fishers cannot harvest them and if caught, must notch their tail fin into a “V” shape before returning it to the water. This ensures future fishers will release the lobster, even when the female lobster is not bearing eggs;
  • Requirements that lobsters be landed live and brought to port whole;
  • Gear restrictions including trap configurations and escape panels (to prevent ghost fishing and reduce bycatch of undersized lobsters); and,
  • Monitoring and reporting requirements.
     

According to a 2015 stock assessment conducted by the ASMFC there is currently a record high stock abundance and recruitment in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank stocks. These two stocks are relatively well managed and are not considered to be overfished. However, the Southern New England stock has been in decline since the 1990’s and is currently at record low abundance and recruitment due to both environmental factors as well as fishing pressure. To address the decline, the Lobster Management Board has approved a suite of measures to allow the Southern New England stock to rebuild. These measures include a trap reduction program, closed seasons for particular areas, and a trap consolidation/transfer program.

Additionally, US lobster fishers must follow measures outlined in the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan to avoid entangling whales in their trap/pot gear. These measures require that lobster fishers haul their active traps at least once every 30 days, use sinking ground lines between traps to reduce the amount of line in the water column, as well as restrictions on where and how gear can be set. 

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Canada manages the American lobster fishery in Canada. American lobster is one of Canada’s most valuable seafood exports with the majority (78 percent) being exported to the United States. There are 45 lobster fisheries (or “lobster fishing areas”) in Canada – with 43 being inshore, one offshore, and one closed for conservation measures. About 10,000 licensed harvesters take part in the 45 fisheries. Among management measures, the DFO establishes for the inshore lobster fishery include:

  • Limits on the number of licenses issued and limits on the number of traps that can be used;
  • Establishing fishing seasons (fishing is generally prohibited between July and September to protect Summer molts);
  • Measures to protect egg-bearing females – fishers cannot harvest them and if caught, must notch their tail fin into a “V” shape before returning it to the water. This ensures future fishers will release the lobster, even when the female lobster is not bearing eggs;
  • Minimum and maximum size limits; and, 
  • Gear restrictions and trap designs to allow undersized lobsters to escape as well as biodegradable escape panels to prevent ghost fishing in case a trap is lost at sea.
     

The offshore lobster fishery also establishes a total allowable catch limit for that particular lobster fishing area that is currently set at 720 tons annually.

Harvest Methods

Conservation Criteria - Wild

Impact on Stock

American lobster, also marketed as Maine lobster, is slow-growing and late-maturing. Some lobsters can live to be 100 years old. These characteristics contribute to lobster’s low resiliency to fishing pressure as well as unfavorable environmental conditions. American lobster is found from Newfoundland to the Carolinas and is most abundant in the Gulf of Maine, where the stock is considered healthy. The Georges Bank lobster stock started to decline in 2005, but is still considered relatively high. Stock in Southern New England is depleted due to a combination of factors but is not overfished, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Habitat impacts (Wild)

Most American lobsters are caught with wire-mesh traps placed on the seafloor. Although these traps have the potential to do damage to rocky areas where lobsters live, measures have been taken to minimize risk, including size limits on gear and using weights to minimize movement. There is also some evidence that lobster pots can have positive effects on the environment by temporarily serving as a reef habitat and shelter from trawls and dredges.

Bycatch

American lobster pots and traps tend to have low bycatch rates. However, endangered North Atlantic humpback and right whales have gotten entangled in lobster fishing gear and died, causing ongoing concern. Lobster traps can also result in a high number of shellfish and crab bycatch. Regulations require that lobster traps have biodegradable escape panels and escape vents so ghost fishing does not occur, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.

Management effectiveness

In the U.S., the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and NOAA Fisheries manage American lobster stocks cooperatively. In Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada manages the resource. Management measures include stock assessments every two to five years, trap surveys, gear restrictions, permit requirements, limits on harvest amounts, size limits, and electronic reporting. While management in the American lobster fishery is generally considered effective, the Monterey Bay Aquarium rated the harvest strategy management in Southern New England a very high concern in mid-2012 because American lobster stock there was so depleted and had not improved.

Conservation Criteria - Farmed

Name Country State / Province
AGE Lobster Inc. Canada Nova Scotia
Albion Farms & Fisheries Canada British Columbia
Alewive's Brook Farm United States Maine
Allseas Fisheries Corp. Canada Ontario
Aqua Star United States Washington
Arctic Fisheries Ltd. United States New York
Atlantic Red Crab Company United States Massachusetts
Barry Group, Inc. Canada Newfoundland and Labrador
Blue Ribbon Meats United States Ohio
Boston Lobster Company United States Massachusetts
Boston Sword and Tuna United States Massachusetts
Bristol Seafood United States Maine
Calendar Islands Maine Lobster United States Maine
Cap Morrill's Premium Seafood United States Maine
Catanese Classic Seafood United States Ohio
Chatham Seafood Enterprises United States Massachusetts
City Fish Canada Alberta
Clearwater Seafoods United States Virginia
Codfathers Seafood Market Canada British Columbia
Craig's All Natural United States New Hampshire
Darel Co Inc. DBA Elafood USA United States Massachusetts
Dennisport Lobster Co. United States Massachusetts
Dorr Lobster Co., Inc. United States Maine
Empire Fish Company United States Wisconsin
Euclid Fish Company United States Ohio
Fisherman's Market International Inc. Canada Nova Scotia
Foley Fish United States Massachusetts
Gidney Fisheries Limited Canada Nova Scotia
Global Seafoods Ltd. Canada Nova Scotia
Goat Island Lobster United States Maine
Gulf Atlantic Seafood, Inc. Canada New Brunswick
Harbor Pride Seafood United States California
Hudson Valley Seafood United States New York
I. Deveau Fisheries Ltd. Canada Nova Scotia
Imperial Seafood and Shellfish Inc. United States Ohio
JD Kelley Fisheries United States Maine
John Nagle Co. United States Massachusetts
JP's Shellfish, Inc. United States Maine
Lobster Trap United States Massachusetts
Lusamerica Foods, Inc. United States California
Lynch Lobster United States Massachusetts
Maine Coast Lobster United States Maine
Maine Shellfish Company United States Maine
Marder Trawling, Inc. United States Massachusetts
Mazzetta Company, LLC. United States Illinois
Mikuni Wild Harvest United States Washington
Mood Fisheries Ltd. Canada Nova Scotia
New Meadows Lobster United States Maine
Northeast Oceans United States Massachusetts
Northern Lakes Seafood & Meats United States Michigan
Ocean State Fresh United States Rhode Island
Ocean's Catch, Inc. United States Rhode Island
OM Seafood Company United States Oregon
Pacific Harvest Seafoods United States California
Port Clyde Fresh Catch United States Maine
Precious Cargo Seafood Company United States Oregon
Providence Bay Fish Company United States Rhode Island
Ready Seafood Co. United States Maine
Royal Hawaiian Seafood United States California
Royal Star Foods Canada Prince Edward Island
Sam Rust Seafood United States Virginia
Sammy's Seafood Inc United States Florida
Sanders Lobster Company United States New Hampshire
Santa Monica Seafood, Inc. United States California
Sarasota Seafood Company United States Florida
Sea to Table, USA United States New York
Seacore Seafood Inc. Canada Ontario
Seattle Fish Company United States Colorado
Seattle Fish Company of New Mexico United States New Mexico
SHS, LLC. United States Colorado
Shucks Maine Lobster United States Maine
Sizzlefish United States North Carolina
Sogelco International, Inc. Canada Quebec
Steve Connolly Seafood Company Inc. United States Massachusetts
The Fish Guys Inc. United States Minnesota
Vital Choice Wild Seafood and Organics United States Washington
Whitecap International Seafood Exporters Canada Newfoundland and Labrador
Wild Fish Direct LLC United States Florida
Xsealent Seafood Company Canada Nova Scotia
Yankee Fisherman's Coop United States New Hampshire