Coming up on Jonathan Bird’s Blue World, Jonathan meets some big lobsters. All of this today on Jonathan Bird’s Blue World! Hi, I’m Jonathan Bird and welcome to my world! The American Lobster may not look all that tasty, but this large crustacean that was once considered a nuisance by catch is now considered a delicacy around the world. Although they are shipped to restaurants everywhere, they come from the cold waters of the North Atlantic, mostly from New England and Eastern Canada. I want to find a really big lobster, so I’ve come to Eastport, Maine, right on the Canadian border to hunt for a monster! Lobsters hunt at night, so they like to hide in holes in the rocks during the day. This is what you normally see of a lobster during the day—just a couple of claws sticking out of its den. With some gentle prodding, the lobster will come out to defend its turf. Lobsters are extremely territorial and often fight each other for prime dens. I have to be very careful of the claws. If this lobster gets hold of my hand or fingers it can easily break them. Note that this lobster has a larger claw on the left side. This is called the crusher claw. The other is the pincher or ripping claw. The crusher claw tells us this lobster is left-handed…er—clawed. When a lobster gets this big, it demands respect! Maine is the lobster capital of the US, and Boothbay harbor is one of the most popular places to visit if you want a fresh lobster dinner. It’s also the home of the Maine State Aquarium, where I’m learning a little bit about the life cycle of lobsters. I’m venturing behind the scenes in the Bigelow Laboratory where they conduct research on lobsters. Researcher Aimee Hayden-Roderigues introduces me to some of the unusual lobsters in their collection. Now most lobsters are not red – that’s the color they are when they’re cooked. In the wild, lobsters are more this color, sort of an olivey color, maybe with a little bit of green and some orange. Now, every once in a while, however, you’ll come across a lobster that looks like this. This blue coloration is an extremely rare pigmentation found one in every three million lobsters. And I have to say, they are cool! Now, if you want to talk about rare genetic variations, this one takes the cake. This one is called a bi-color lobster and you can see that the color is divided right down the middle, one side’s blue and the other side’s kind of a pale yellow. These bi-color lobsters are so rare only one in every 100 million of these are born this color. That is one rare lobster. This female lobster has something very special going on. If you look underneath her tail, it’s full of eggs. The female incubates thousands of eggs under her tail for up to a year before they hatch, and then when it’s time for them to hatch, she releases the eggs out into the water, they hatch with little larvae that swim off into the water to become planktonic lobsters. Lobsters don’t grow very quickly, and just to give you an example, this is about a one-month old lobster, just old enough that it has settled down to the bottom after being plankton. But from this to the next phase…takes a long time. This little guy – HEY – this little guy is between a year and two years old. It takes a long time for a lobster just to reach this size, and this is nowhere near market-size yet. Incidentally, they pinch…Thank you…Now this one…this one is just barely old enough to be a legal lobster for a lobsterman to catch, and it’s probably seven years old. So it takes seven years just for a lobster to big enough to catch, so you can imagine how long it takes for those really big ones to get three feet long. A few hundred years ago, lobsters were incredibly abundant. In fact, after a big storm, the beaches would be covered in lobsters washed up by the waves. Back then, lobsters were considered cheap food for poor people. How times change! Lobstermen catch lobsters using a simple trap, the design of which hasn’t changed much in a hundred years. The large round opening in this trap is where the lobster enters the trap. If they are undersize they should be able to get out this little rectangular escape hatch. Down at the dock I see the crew of the Catch 22 sorting their haul for the market. I go down with my camera to check it out. Lobsterman Todd Plummer and his crew have told me that I can go out with them to see what a day of lobstering is like. The sternman stuffs bait bags with herring as we cruise offshore to haul some traps. The coast of Maine is ruggedly beautiful, but the inshore areas are a labyrinth of lobster buoys, each connected to one or more traps. Finally, we arrive at one of the areas where Todd has set some of his 600 traps. Todd checks each trap for “keepers” – that is lobsters that are legal size and throws back the shorts and other by-catch like crabs. Because this is done by hand, none of the short lobsters or by-catch is harmed. His sternman bands the lobster claws so they can’t attack each other in the hold. In the next trap, Todd finds a female lobster with a notch in her tail. TODD: That’s a V notch right there. JONATHAN: Let me see! TODD: Female. And you can see it’s notch. Right flipper. JONATHAN: Let me just get a close up of that. The V-notch was put here by a fellow lobsterman so that everyone will know she’s a good breeder, and let her go. This is how lobstermen protect the future of the industry by ensuring that there are always lots of egg-laying females out there. TODD: We’re not allowed to keep that. I want to see just what it looks like underwater when “hauling” traps. JONATHAN: Gotta love dry suits! I don my drysuit for a dive off Todd’s boat. This water is too cold for a wetsuit. At last I enter the water and descend to the bottom. WHOO!! With the assistance of a winch from above, the heavy trap takes off into the gloom. At the surface, Todd checks for keepers, and then sends it back down. Inside another trap, a lobster is trying to get out through the escape hatch, but he’s too big. Many times – in fact, MOST of the time, lobsters don’t even go into a trap, but walk right on by. After filming a few wandering lobsters, I decide to head back up so Todd can get some work done. Lobstering is a tough business full of hard work and long days. Todd gives me a chance to try his job for a while… JONATHAN: All right. Ready. I get lucky by pulling up a female lobster with eggs. JONATHAN: Oh yeah this is gonna be good. TODD: And it needs to be notched. JONATHAN: And it needs to be notched! Oh this great! This is a great lesson right here. OK. I’ve got my measure. Got my measure and find the first one. Oh..well, this is the first one we’ll go right to the egg one. Now this one has eggs so maybe you can tell me what we do with it. TODD: What we need to do with it if it’s a female has eggs. Obviously it’s a female. Huh. You need to notch the tail legal. Alright hold it. OK hold it. JONATHAN: Hold it. We’re going to get a shot of this. Alright Kerry (cameraman) get in there. TODD: Dig in. Now you’ve have a notch. No one will be able to take that lobster again. JONATHAN: OK TODD: That’s our future right there. JONATHAN: OK, so that’s going to tell every other fishermen that this is a good egg-bearing female and leave her alone. TODD: Right. JONATHAN: Alright. TODD: This is a safe for life man. JONATHAN: I’m going to set her free. OK ready never to be eaten by people, but only to lay eggs. Alright! My time as an apprentice lobsterman taught me how hard these guys work for a living, and I also learned how efforts like V-notching have made lobstering one of the few fisheries that really makes an attempt to ensure the long-term viability of the species. American Lobsters are one of the more interesting things to see on a dive in New England and they are among the largest crustaceans in the world. They’re fun to play with, and when they see their reflection in the camera lens, they can get pretty territorial. As interesting as they are though, I still don’t want to eat one!