We’d like to make something clear. No one should be saying “buyer beware” when it comes to soft-shell lobsters from Maine. The quality of a lobster is an assessment made by the eater, and some would argue Maine lobsters taste far better than those from Connecticut.
Not that we want to start a lobster war. But a recent news article from The Day newspaper in New London, Conn., quoted people from Connecticut and Rhode Island who said Maine is putting low-quality lobsters on the market.
Sure, Maine has an astounding number of soft-shell lobsters — in large part because of longtime conservation measures — and there is less meat in lobsters that have just shed their shell. That’s why they cost less.
But quality? How do you beat the quality of a Maine lobster?
With Wednesday marking the start of Rockland’s Lobster Festival, Mainers have a chance to support an industry vital to the economic health and cultural identity of the state. It’s also important for lobster industry representatives — whether they are lobstermen, dealers, restaurant owners or state leaders — to continue to work together to find a way to increase demand for Maine lobsters in order to offset rising supply.
Fishermen landed more than double the number of lobsters last year than a decade prior, and more work is required to expand the market — whether through greater advertising efforts, production of speciality products or events, such as the Lobster Festival, which is sponsored by the BDN and runs Aug. 1-5, or the Rockland-Camden Lobsterpalooza, which is a celebration of Maine lobster organized by the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce for Aug. 26-31.
It’s also important for people to have the facts about lobster. Whether a lobster is in a soft shell or a hard shell, it’s still the same lobster. It’s just at a different stage of its annual cycle of molting its outer layer. Soft-shell lobsters, otherwise called shedders, are considered a delicacy and are not inferior in any way.
There are a variety of soft-shell lobsters. Some have just finished their molt, and some may have shed their shell a couple months ago. A lobster that has recently molted has to be sold quickly to restaurants or retail stores. But a lobster that has had more time to fill out its new shell can stay in a tank for a week or two.
Dealers know what can be shipped out of state and what can’t. They have a selection process to make sure they’re shipping lobsters that will survive the trip, according to the Maine Lobster Council. Yes, there is slightly less lobster meat. That’s normal. But the meat is known for being a little sweeter and more delicate than hard-shell lobster meat. It’s personal preference whether soft- or hard-shell lobster meat tastes better.
The glut of soft shell lobsters, which molted early this year, gives consumers an opportunity to pay affordable prices. And it provides the industry with an opportunity to get creative with the catch. The increasing number of lobsters over time should propel the industry to find new markets and expand existing ones in order to boost profitability.
This is a time for people to come together and deal with the fortunate problem of having too many lobsters. Fishermen in other states might get jealous of the abundance. Ignore them.