News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 9, 2013
Maine’s top lobster port identifies best handling practices
Informational DVD available

How to handle lobsters

Proper lobster handling techniques are demonstrated in a new DVD produced by Penobscot East Resource Center with Maine Sea Grant.

Photo courtesy of Penobscot East Resource Center

As the summer lobstering season gets under way, lobstermen in Maine’s top lobster port are taking steps to ensure their lobsters are top quality, and an informational DVD on best handling practices to meet this goal has been released, according to a news release.

During the summer of 2012, the town of Stonington received Rural Development funding that supported a pilot study of on-boat handling practices conducted by Penobscot East Resource Center. This pilot was documented by an informational video, “Stonington Lobster: Creating A Quality Brand,” produced by Stonington’s Opera House Arts that had a limited local release in September. The DVD is now available to all island lobster license holders, as well as statewide.

The results of the study are clear: after 28 days and 1,008 lobsters, the pilot showed that the lobsters handled aboard vessels following the best handling protocols had far fewer injuries. Only eight out of every 100 lobsters aboard these vessels showed injury, while the numbers were much higher on boats that had made no changes: 33 out of every 100.

Since the pilot’s completion, Stonington and Deer Isle fishermen have been meeting at Penobscot East to explore what they can do to ensure they preserve the town’s reputation for excellent quality lobster.

This effort is the latest in a pro-active, collaborative effort that started in 2008 when the Stonington Lobster Working Group formed to address the low lobster prices that arose from the global financial crisis. The group identified the quality of the landed lobster as one key element of lobster price that the town could affect and has worked in various ways since then on education and research around lobster quality. Penobscot East partnered with Maine Sea Grant to produce the training video used in the industry-wide Trade Adjustment Assistance video.

In the pilot handling study, Penobscot East worked with four captains and their lobster dealer, Green Head Lobster, to develop a list of six “Best Handling Practices.”

This winter, Penobscot East convened a series of outreach meetings inviting lobstermen, their sternmen and industry members to view the video, discuss the handling practices, and perceptions, concerns, and observations around lobster quality and handling, and what else they can do to keep their lobsters in peak condition.

Participating lobstermen have liked the video, and discussions have reflected some surprise about how much of a difference on-board handling can make to the quality of the lobsters. They have also said they can’t “take for granted that people are using these practices.”

Now, the issue of lobster quality and handling practices is surfacing across coastal regions of Maine. The Maine Commissioner of Marine Resources and the Maine Lobstermen’s Alliance came out in support of good handling techniques earlier this spring, suggesting that there will be continued work at various levels in order to increase awareness around what lobstermen can do to have a better quality state of Maine lobster.

In Stonington, the work will continue this summer. Interested captains, and dealers are welcome to schedule times for a member of the Penobscot East staff to monitor the dissolved oxygen in the water either in their tanks, or dockside. Questions can be directed to Holly Eaton, community liaison, Penobscot East Resource Center, 367-2708.

Penobscot East will convene two additional meetings to discuss lobster quality and handling at Deer Isle Town Hall Wednesday, May 15, and Wednesday, May 29 at 6 p.m. Interested lobstermen, sternmen and industry members are welcome to join in discussing the video, the techniques, other ways lobstermen can increase the quality of their catch, and how we all can continue to participate at the state level as part of the ongoing conversation.