Times are tough for our many-legged ocean-dwelling friends, Homarus americanus — the American lobster. But times are even tougher for our two-legged, dock-dwelling friends, Traphaulinus mainerus — the Maine lobsterman. Increased fuel and bait prices, decreased consumer demand in the wake of the sinking economy, and tougher regulations have meant that lobstermen from Cape Elizabeth to Castine have seen their income shrink.
But we’re Mainers, and we stick together to help our own — which is why some enterprising individuals around the state have come up with some new ways to market the beloved crustacean.
Lobster Celebrations (www.lobstercelebrations.com) is the brainchild of Cary Weston, co-founder of Bangor-based marketing and public relations firm Sutherland and Weston. A conversation with a friend from Washington County got him to thinking about ways individual people could help out the lobster industry. The idea of buying lobster for birthday parties, anniversaries or even Thanksgiving dinner seemed like a simple way that one person could make a difference.
“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback about the site,” said Weston. “And even if you don’t want to push aside other foods for holiday meals in favor of lobster, we offer recipes on the site that use lobster to complement turkey, or blueberries, or potatoes, or other Maine foods.”
Lobster Celebrations has instigated a minor Internet craze, with Facebook pages attracting multiple views, and the story being picked up nationally by CNN and Fox. Similarly to Weston’s idea, organizations such as the Southwest Harbor Chamber of Commerce have encouraged local restaurants and cafes to offer menu items featuring lobster for the month of October.
“Of course, every area of the economy has been affected by the recent downturn,” said Weston. “But I think Mainers feel very close to the lobster industry, and this is one small way that you can positively affect the economy in the state.”
Linda Bean, granddaughter of the world-famous L.L. Bean, is doing her part to help the lobster industry by selling them online at www.portclydelobster.com. Bean purchased lobster wharves in Vinalhaven and Port Clyde, and her lobster holdings now represent 10 percent of the total landings in Knox County, home to the most landings in Maine in recent years.
On Dec. 5 Bean’s signature Port Clyde Lobster Stew will be released, available for purchase on the Web site. The stew is made from Oakhurst Dairy cream, Kate’s Maine Butter, a bit of marsala and sea salt, and all the meat (minus the tails) from two Maine lobsters. Bean uses a “no-boil” shell removal technology that allows the meat to be poached, rather than cooked once in the shell and then again when the stew is reheated. Bean says it makes it better and fresher that way.
When you’re married to a lobsterman, you see the effects of the drop in prices firsthand. Monique Coombs of Orrs Island decided to do something about it by soliciting submissions for a cookbook, called “Lobsters on the Fly.” She’s now accepting recipes, with plans to publish the book next spring or summer. If you want to submit a recipe, you can e-mail email@example.com, or send it to Lobsters on the Fly, P.O. Box 73, Orrs Island, ME, 04066.
“We’ve gotten some great recipes so far, including some lobster and corn fritters, and a really delicious lobster cheesecake. It’s not dessert; it’s got a pretzel crust and it’s made with cream cheese and dill,” said Coombs. “I also plan to include plenty of info about the sustainability practices within the lobster industry. I just want to help raise awareness.”
Catch a Piece of Maine, a Portland-based business that started in 2007, allows customers to purchase all of the lobsters that come out of a trap for an entire year. Lobstermen in southern Maine allow their traps to be “rented” out by subscribers to the company, started by brothers Brendan and John Ready of Cape Elizabeth. Customers can also purchase a share of a trap’s haul, if the full membership is too much. In addition to lobsters, customers receive clams, mussels, Maine desserts and information on where exactly your bounty was caught. For more information, you can visit www.catchapieceofmaine.com.
For Weston, who started Lobster Celebrations, the iconic sea creature is more than just a means of livelihood for coastal Mainers — it’s a source of Maine identity.
“I think people feel a real sense of pride and ownership, when it comes to Maine lobsters,” he said. “I think people are very proud of what the industry has meant to this state, and that we’re so associated with it.”