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What is Sustainable Lobster Fishing?


Sustainable Lobster Fishing
Sustainable lobstering practices have been in place in Maine for well over a century. The word sustainable means, "able to be maintained at a certain rate or level". The goal of sustainable lobster fishing in Maine is to maintain a healthy lobster population. Maine is famous for its long and jagged rocky Atlantic coastline where nature made a unique habitat in its pristine Gulf of Maine waters for our famous Maine Lobster! The Maine Lobster (species name, Homarus Americanus, sometimes referred to as the "American Lobster" or "New England Lobster" to include the 10% of lobsters caught outside of Maine waters) was once served only to Maine state prisoners during the 1800's. Since then, Lobster has become, by far, Maine's largest fishery and seafood export. Indeed, the Maine Economy is dependent on this tasty natural resource and, so, we Mainers take the long-term health of the Lobster stock and the ecosystem that supports this rare creature very seriously.

Accordingly, sustainable lobstering practices have been in place in Maine for over a century. The word sustainable means, "able to be maintained at a certain rate or level". The goal of sustainable lobster fishing in Maine is to maintain a healthy lobster population without fishing it down to biomass levels where lobster reproduction and juvenile lobster growth rates would not easily keep pace with harvests. The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) regulates various parts of the fishing process to maintain what biologists estimate to be a healthy amount of lobsters in a given area. The DMR will frequently work with the University of Maine Lobster Institute (to which we are a proud sponsor!) to continue to research lobster migration patterns, reproductive cycles, and the impact of different types of fishing (not just lobstering but draggers, also known as fishing trawlers and other fishing vessels) has on the lobster population.

A Limited Number Of Lobster Fishing Licenses

Lobster Fishing

Lobster Fishing

  To limit the number of lobsters being caught, the first thing the state does is regulate the number of fishermen in the state. These licenses are not easy to come by. Lobstering is a limited-entry fishery and there is a long waiting list to get a license. If you want to be a lobstermen, hurry up and wait. Once you complete an lobstering apprenticeship you are on the waiting list - some have been on this list for over a decade! The only way to get around the waiting list is to be grandfathered in (available on if you are a direct descendant of a lobstermen). The waiting list only moves when a lobstermen retires and doesn't renew their license.

To fish in deeper waters beyond three miles of the coast, a federal permit must be obtained from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the governing body authorized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to administer federal fishing regulations relative to commercial fishing of all kinds. The federal lobstering permits have larger trap limits, closer to 1400 traps, as boats cannot tend their traps as frequently. For more information relating to federal offshore regulations please visit the NOAA webiste (and note, lobster is in the sustainable fisheries category of fisheries):

We wish to note here that, beyond fishery sustainability, lobstering in Maine has earned an important "seal of approval" from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute as an ECO-FRIENDLY fishery!

Apprentice Program

There are a number of hours each stern-man (a lobstermen's helper) needs to complete before even being able to apply for a lobster fishing license. This is to help ensure that each lobsterman understands the importance of sustainability. If you want to get your license without getting on the waiting list, you have to finish your apprenticeship before you are 18 years old. The apprentice program requires at least 200 days on the water which has to add up to at least 1000 working hours. You need a licensed lobstermen as a sponsor to log hours with.   Lobster Apprentice Program

Lobster Apprentice


Trap Limit For Each Lobsterman

Lobster Trap Limit

Lobster Trap Limit

  There are 5,900 legally registered lobstermen and women in Maine. Each license grants the harvester to fish up to 800 traps. Maine does not allow fleets of lobster boats because they want to keep lobster fishing with individual lobstermen, to support the local economy. With literally millions of buoys off the coast of Maine, the industry supports thousands of jobs on shore, not just the people hauling traps.

Maine Lobster Legal Size Limit - Large and Small

Lobster Measure Diagram

Lobster Measure Diagram

This is the first practice towards sustainability after the trap limit. This regulation limits very small developing lobsters from being harvested, as well as large 'breeder' lobsters. This is a great way to keep lobsters reproducing. Lobsters are measured using a Lobster Measuring Gauge which is used to measure the carapace. Legally harvested lobsters have a carapace (hard shell from eye to beginning of tail) of at least 3.25" but no longer than 5". Each side of the "lobster measure" is used to measure either a small or large lobster so lobstermen quickly know whether it's something they can sell or have to throw back. Measuring Live Lobster

Using Lobster Measure To Check Legal Limit


Protecting Female Lobsters with Eggs - V-Notching

When a lobstermen pulls up his trap, if he sees a female lobster with eggs under the tail, he knows that it is critical to return this lobster back into the ocean to continue to reproduce. Before he throws the female lobster back in, he will mark one of her flippers on her tail with by taking a small piece of her fin off, in case another lobstermen pulls her up, he will also know know to harvest this particular lobster.

Keeping a v-notch lobster or a female lobster with eggs can result in a large fine. DMR takes this very seriously and have a zero tolerance for fishermen that don't abide by this regulation.
  Female Lobster With Eggs and V-Notch

Female Lobster With Eggs and V-Notch


Why Sustainability Matters Now More Than Ever

The lobster harvest is growing annually. The worldwide demand for lobster has grown significantly along with the amount of lobsters being harvested. With such a booming demand for lobsters in asia, and only a limited supply, to keep the overall lobster population is critical for sellers and buyers alike. As you can see, the volume of lobsters being harvested is higher than ever, and so is the amount being exported. If the lobster population starts to decrease there will most likely be more limitations on harvesting and the price may actually discourage current buyers, so sustainability is playing a ever growing role in local and world economies alike. The bottom line, sustainability is great for everyone!

Lobster Harvest Annual Volume Growth Chart

Lobster Volume Export To China Annual Chart
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