Why shouldn’t you eat a 15 pound lobster?

The story about Larry the Lobster- the fifteen pound crustacean who made national headlines last week– has received a lot of attention from animal rights activists as well as people who care about the lobster industry.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Larry first caught the attention of the media when a group of activists demanded that his life be spared from the boiling pot at a restaurant called the Tin Fish near Miami, Florida.

The restaurant obliged, and arrangements were made to ship Larry to the Maine State Aquarium in Boothbay Harbor.

Maine lobster, roughly half the size of "Larry the Lobster". Photo- Chris Shorr, BDN

Maine lobster, roughly half the size of “Larry the Lobster”. Photo- Chris Shorr, BDN

Not surprisingly- at least to anyone with any semblance of knowledge about lobsters- Larry died during transport to Maine.

The story is confusing because, while Larry was labeled as a Maine lobster, he far exceeds the legal size limits on keepable lobsters for the state of Maine. So Larry was either mislabeled as a Maine lobster, or he was illegally caught, transported, and sold.

In any case, animal rights activists have focused their arguments on the opinion that Larry should never have been caught in the first place, because all lobsters should be left alone by humans.

For all the terrible agricultural practices surrounding the different types of food that we eat in our society, I cannot understand why anyone would fret about the lobster industry. It’s one of the few remaining food industries that offers a wild, sustainably caught product that’s both delicious and healthy.

Banded lobsters for sale on Casco Bay, Maine. Photo- Chris Shorr, BDN.

Banded lobsters for sale on Casco Bay, Maine. Photo- Chris Shorr, BDN.

Activists also like to make a big deal out of the “suffering” a lobster endures on its way to our dinner plates, but that’s a bunch of nonsense for reasons that don’t need explaining.

All animal rights arguments aside, though, the two biggest reasons for why you shouldn’t eat oversized lobsters have gone largely unmentioned in the Larry the Lobster story.

First, catching and keeping oversized lobsters hurts the stock of the animal in any given region. This is because larger lobsters make more babies.

For example, a one pound female typically carries roughly 8,000 eggs, but a ten pound lobster can carry more than 100,000 eggs. With about a 1% survival rate from egg to adulthood, the lobster industry depends on the big breeders to help keep the stock strong.

Pregnant female Maine lobster, weighing in around 1.5 pounds. Photo- Chris Shorr, BDN.

Pregnant female Maine lobster, weighing in around 1.5 pounds. Photo- Chris Shorr, BDN.

Failure to recognize the importance of outlawing the catching of oversized lobsters is largely attributed to the struggles that the industry has seen in places such as Massachusetts in recent years, and by the same token, putting size limits on the lobsters in Maine is seen as a major contributing factor to the record catches seen here in recent years.

Finally, other than the importance of keeping breeders in the ocean for the good of the stock, the biggest reason of all to not eat oversized lobsters is in the flavor and quality of the meat that they produce.

Large lobsters can be decades- perhaps even centuries- old. For perspective, would you want to eat a steak from a 100 year old cow just because it was a really big cow?

Also, oversized lobsters are hard shells, as opposed to soft shells.

Most people attribute hard shell lobsters with having more meat  than soft shells, and assume that makes the hard shells better, but true lobster connoisseurs know that the best meat comes from the soft shells.

Photo- Chris Shorr, BDN.

Maine lobstermen hauling soft shells in Casco Bay in July 2014. Photo- Chris Shorr, BDN.

This is because, unlike hard shells, soft shells haven’t yet filled out in their shells, meaning that there is extra room inside, and that extra room is taken up by ocean water.

This results in meat that is essentially marinating in salty ocean water right up to the point where you crack it open and dig in, producing a more tender, flavorful taste than even the delicious hard shells can offer.

In Maine, there is a new push to help rebrand soft shell lobsters by a group called the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative.

Part of that rebranding is to create a shift away from calling them soft shells and introduce the term “new shell” to more people.

Also part of the effort is to explain the differences between hard shells and soft or new shells.

Check out this video produced by the MLMC for a better understanding:

Also, check out the MLMC on Facebook or at lobsterfrommaine.com for other cool videos, amazing recipe ideas, and more.

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a sixth generation Portlander who loves all things Maine. He has worked with mentally ill and marginalized adults at a Portland non-profit, on a lobster boat in Casco Bay, at several high-end Portland restaurants, and at a local meat packing plant. He also ran for Portland City Council in 2013, wrote a weekly column in the now defunct Portland Daily Sun, and currently writes a weekly column in The Portland Phoenix.