Arriving in the New World, European settlers were greeted with a huge abundance of lobster. They were so plentiful that they would often wash ashore and form piles of up to two feet high.
Often times, Native Americans used the crustaceans to fertilize their fields. Their abundance and ease in harvesting made the lobster a staple meal for poor families. Disdain for fresh lobster eventually declined and what was once the poor man’s chicken evolved into the rich man’s prize.
Lobster has been harvested along the Maine coast for generations. As times and tastes have changed, live Maine lobster eventually gained popularity on menus in the nation’s finer restaurants that offered fish seafood. In turn, live Maine lobsters increased in value.
Two things helped Maine lobster to become popular; the invention of the well smack and the adaptation of a technique that preserved food in tin cans. A well smack is a fishing boat with a tank that circulates cold seawater and was used to ship live lobster longer distances.
By perfecting canning techniques, lobster canneries were built so that people all over the country could savor the wonderful taste. By 1880, by volume, more canned lobster was being consumed than the live product. The canned lobster was making its way all the way to California.
Before 1840, lobster fishing was done simply by collecting lobsters that had washed up on the beach or had been stuck in tidal pools when the tide went out. Then in 1850, the lobster trap was invented and the industry was born.
Shipments were sent around the world and parts inland. The first lobster reached Chicago in 1842 and soon many better restaurants started serving lobster to those who had an appetite for seafood. Rich diners could show off their wealth by eating several lobsters at one sitting.
In 1875, the first Maine lobster pound was established. A lobster pound is the New England term for a facility used to hold and store Maine lobsters. Fresh ocean water is continuously circulated to provide oxygen filled water for the lobsters.
A lobster pound also allows distributors to buy lobster at lower prices and then sell when the market goes up.
It is ironic that while lobster has been available to most of the country since the mid 1850s, it wasn’t really until after World War II that it became as popular as it is today. Because of war time beef and food rationing, lobster became a great alternative source of protein.
These days, live lobster industry is highly regulated. The men and women who make their living by manning a lobster boat and catching them are in a constant battle with environmentalists who want to protect the supply of these invertebrates.
State and the federal governments have agreed to a minimum length the crustaceans must be in order to assure that the lobster population has a chance to lay eggs and reproduce before being caught.