Lobster Handling Management Practices

Lobster Handling

Woven into the humor in the video you just saw is a real message delivered by real fishermen who take a lot of pride in landing the best quality lobsters they can. You can help us spread the word. Share it, re-post it, re-tweet, talk about it, shoot your own video and upload it – Tell us what you’re doing onboard to take better care of your lobsters…


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Why should I care?

Lobsters are animals. Plain and simple. Just as you wouldn’t leave your dog in the truck on a hot summer day, providing your lobsters with adequate water and oxygen circulation and careful handling is essential for their survival. Think about it: Each lobster is handled at least five times before it even leaves the parking lot at your dealer. That’s five chances to break a claw, rip off a leg, or puncture a tail. Add in poor water and oxygen circulation in tanks, and we’ve got a recipe for potential disaster. If we work together to make sure that each lobster is handled carefully from trap to crate, that lobster will survive better in the market chain. And better survival rates could mean more money in your pocket.

How does this affect price?

It’s simple. A healthy, lively lobster is a premium product and can be sold for a good price. And, if a lobster dies before it reaches the consumer, it’s not worth anything to anyone. So let’s do the math: Maine landed over 126 million pounds of lobster in 2013. For example, if 3 lobsters (about 4 pounds) die in every 90 lb crate due to poor handling, at an average price of $2.89 per pound, over $16 million is lost in the market chain. This is called shrinkage. And shrinkage is a price signal that trickles all the way back down the market chain to affect boat prices.

The solution is simple

Better lobster handling reduces injury rate, drives more product to live and high-priced markets, results in less shrinkage, and has a positive influence on prices paid to fishermen. But in order for that to happen, it will take action by fishermen and it all starts onboard. But it doesn’t stop with fishermen. Dock workers, graders, packers, dealers, truckers, processors, restaurant and store owners, everyone who comes in contact with the product should understand the negative effects of poor handling. This is a new era. A lobster that is well handled from the trap to the dock is the first step. 

“Best Management Practices”

At the 2012 Maine Fishermen’s Forum, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) and the commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources called for development of “Best Management Practices” throughout the fleet to reduce injury rates and shrinkage as an essential step toward profitability.

The key to having shippable lobsters is good on-board handling practices.  In the summer of 2012, Penobscot East teamed up with the Town of Stonington, the Stonington Opera House and four lobstermen at Greenhead Lobster to run a pilot quality and handling study.  The lobstermen drafted six onboard handling techniques that they followed for four weeks:Lobsters on Boat

  1. Carefully breaking traps over the “toe-rail”
  2. Treating their lobsters like eggs
  3. Using cushioned, cool and moist banding stations
  4. Monitoring water circulation and dissolved oxygen in holding tanks
  5. Removing each lobster by hand
  6. Carefully placing lobsters in crates going in the same direction.

The results were stunning:  70% fewer injuries with just an 8% injury rate.  In contrast, on other boats, 33% of the lobsters were injured.

As part of the study, the Opera House helped to create a video about quality and handling practices on the boat.  During 2013 winter meetings, many lobstermen watched the video and talked about how they could consistently land high quality, shippable lobster.

Stonington lobstermen land the highest volume of lobster in the state, but as one lobsterman pointed out, he’s no longer “taking for granted that people are using these practices”.  He said we need to start somewhere, and talking about what lobstermen can do to bring pride back into their industry is a good first step.

Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries will move the conversation to the next level and explore questions about lobster marketing and profitability.  Do you know where your lobster goes after you sell it at the dock? Do you know what kinds of processing there is in Maine, and how processing affects your product?  The lobster market was established when the state as a whole was landing roughly 20 million pounds of lobsters a year. Now the town of Stonington lands nearly that amount by itself, but quality and price are impacted by both the shift in the shed and the high rate of injury and mortality.

This is a new era.  It is time to learn more about the market chain and how Stonington can create demand for well-handled lobsters that will increase market value for fishermen.