Sweet, succulent, slightly briny, Maine lobster is craved by seafood lovers throughout the world. Harvested from the cold, clear waters of the Gulf of Maine, the crustaceans are renowned for their characteristic large claws and meaty tails. Not only are they a highly sought delicacy, the animals are sustainably harvested by a self-regulating fishery that has supported generations of families. For the people in the industry, it’s more than a business; it’s a way of life. But lobstering, like any kind of fishing, is difficult and filled with uncertainty. To take control of their lives and livelihood, a group of lobstermen from Chebeague, a tiny island in Casco Bay off the coast of Maine, joined forces to create an innovative business, Calendar Islands Lobster Company, that maintains an active role in every step of the process from harvesting the animals from the ocean to delivering them to diners’ plates in a variety of ways.
Standing at the helm of his vessel, Storm Walker, which he is steering into Casco Bay past Chebeague Island on a bright, crisp autumn day, John Jordan notes, “It’s not a bad office.” In fact, this 39-foot boat is one of Jordan’s two offices. The other is a string of rooms in the Portland fish pier that serves as Calendar Islands Lobster’s corporate headquarters. Jordan was the driving force behind the business, formed in 2004, that brought together individual lobstermen to operate as a sort of co-op, with a goal of receiving maximum value for their catch by selling in volume. They started with 12 members; now they have 38, drawn primarily from Chebeague Island but coming from as far as Portland and Freeport.
Jordan grew up spending summers at his grandparents’ home on Chebeague Island. When he was in college, he worked on the island’s lobster boats during summer breaks. After he graduated, he gravitated back to the life and the ocean he loved. “You get wired into doing this,” he says. Now, during the season—June through December for him (some people start in May; some go out year-round)— each week he goes out lobstering three days and spends three days in the office, where he oversees branding and market development for Calendar Islands Lobster, as well as other issues that arise. Two of his sons, [ages?], share a boat and have 100 traps. While Jordan says he is not actively encouraging them to join the business, “It’s good for them to learn to work.”
A Self-Regulating Fishery
Unlike other fisheries that are regulated by external agencies, the Maine lobster fishery is self-regulating, following practices that were put in place in the late 1800s to protect both the lobster population and the state’s fishermen and women. Specifically:
- Lobsters less than 3 1/4 or over 5 inches must be released
- Egg-carrying female lobsters must be released; fishermen cut a v-shaped notch in their tail flippers so if they are caught again they will be easily identifiable. This protects breeding females.
- Sometimes, fishermen throw back roughly 80% of what they catch, live and unharmed