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Photo Courtesy of Amy Mahler.

Photo Courtesy of Amy Mahler.

Everything that you have been told about lobsters is a lie.

Okay, maybe not everything. But despite the popularity of the lobster industry (and it’s a very popular industry—bringing in over $53 million dollars in Massachusetts alone), many popular beliefs about the lobster’s existence are false.

What better time than now, with the Boston Seafood Festival approaching, to heed the advice of novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace, and “consider the lobster,” or rather: reconsider the lobster.

First of all, lobsters are not immortal. Despite what my brother, and even some journalists claim, lobsters neither live forever, nor mate for life.

That said, they do live for a long time, the average female life span is about sixty years, and scientist estimate some unusually large lobsters to be over 100 years old (although it is hard to know for sure). Furthermore, the lobster not only ages slowly (females can lay eggs until death) but it can also regenerate lost appendages, so perhaps there is some basis for the immortality claim.

And while some lobsters might be as old as time (or close to it) they have not always been a delicacy. According to National Geographic, in the 17th and 18th centuries, lobsters were so abundant that they were used as food for the poor—and not even good food. Feeding your servant too much lobster was considered inhumane. There were laws forbidding people from giving servants lobster more than twice a week. Most surprising, lobsters were so cheap that they were even used as fertilizer!

But now that lobsters are not peasant food, and are more popular than ever, much is done to ensure that the lobster industry remains sustainable.

There are lobster fisheries, which have been around since the 19th century, that protect the population. Furthermore, traps are made in such a way that they do not cause habitat damage and  fishermen must throw back certain lobsters that do not meet a certain size requirement (juveniles and females with eggs). Lastly, only a restricted number of fishermen can even harvest lobster.

And it’s not easy to get a license; in Maine, after completing a two-year apprenticeship program, a potential lobster fisherman has to wait ten years on average before obtaining a license. If you are interested in getting a license in Massachusetts, permits can be found here.

So, the lobster is not only mortal, and heavily protected, but it is also beloved. But it is not the only sustainable seafood that Massachusetts has to offer. If you are hungry for more information, and want to reconsider the claims, or maybe just hungry for some fish, come down to third annual Boston Seafood Festival this Sunday, July 27 at the Boston Fish Pier.

In addition to information on sustainable practices, and a clam-shucking competition, there will be food demonstrations, face painting and more.

Written By:


Nicole Levin is a rising senior at Harvard College where she studies government. She is an editor for the Harvard Crimson and writes for the Harvard Lampoon, a comedy magazine on campus. She is from Fairfield, California, home of the Jelly Belly Factory and her dog, Baby.

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