Lobster Health Expert Returns to Maine in March!

First published in Landings, February, 2017, updated February 23, 2017

Who would have thought that a funny, fast-talking Canadian lobster veterinarian would be such a hit among Maine lobstermen? But Jean Lavallée, an expert on lobster health, took the Maine coast by storm last spring when he spoke to lobstermen and other industry members in each of the seven zones about how they can keep their lobsters healthy and their profits up.

Making sure to handle lobsters properly
adds to their value. Photo courtesy of J. Lavallée.

Now Lavallée is returning. In March, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association in conjunction with the Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance will host Lavallée for a series of workshops on how to keeping stress on lobsters down and a lobsterman’s profits up. This year’s tour will kick off on Saturday afternoon during the Maine Fishermen’s Forum and then travel the coast from southern to Downeast Maine the following week to talk about the unusual physiology of the lobster and commonsense practices lobstermen can employ to ensure the highest quality catch regardless of the number of pounds hauled each day. The workshops are supported by Maine Sea Grant and some of Maine’s lobster coops.

“The goal is to make sure that you harvest, transport and ship lobsters in the best way possible. What that way is may change by region or the time of year,” Lavallée said. “But fundamentally there are certain practical things that must be done.”

A lobster may appear to be as armored as a tank, yet its internal structures make it prone to injury. For example, a lobster’s nerve cord runs down its belly, without the protection of vertebrae. A cut from another lobster or a rough toss by a lobsterman can sever that cord, resulting in paralysis of the lobster’s tail and eventual death.

A lobster’s heart is on its back, where the carapace meets the tail. Whack a lobster on the back and the heart will likely rupture. Furthermore, a lobster has a semi-open blood circulation system. That means the heart pumps blood through ever smaller arteries until finally the blood vessels simply spill blood into the animal’s tissues. The blood doesn’t recirculate; it flows over the tissues all the time. As soon as a lobster’s shell is broken, then the blood comes out, weakening the lobster.

“Quality is like a one-way gas tank. You can take the quality out of the lobster but it’s very hard to put it back in,” Lavallée said.

All sorts of things weaken a lobster. Rapid hauling from the bottom is one stressor. Minor injuries to lobsters also add up to lost money, he said. Practices such as tossing lobsters, handling traps roughly and overstuffing, dropping or banging crates can increase limb loss and bleeding. Lobsters that bleed lose fluid which means they lose weight which means a lobsterman loses money. Plus that lobster is likely to be weak when it starts on its trip to the processor or dealer. “Quality is as important to the processing sector as it is to the live sector,” Lavallée emphasized. “Processors live and die by meat yield. They want a high quality non-injured lobster to start with.”

There are a lot of surprising elements
to a lobster, according to lobster veterinarian
Jean Lavallée.
MLCA photo.

Response from lobstermen after last year’s tour was very positive. Lavallée’s engaging style made the three-hour workshop pass quickly. “I have seen him three times and each time I learn something new” said veteran lobsterman John Williams. This year’s workshops are expected to draw bigger crowds.

Lavallée will speak at this year’s Fisherman’s Forum and then begin his tour in southern Maine on Sunday, March 5.Here is the full itinerary:

Saturday March 3rd, 1 pm, Samoset Resort/Fishermen’s Forum;

Sponsored by Maine Sea Grant

Sunday March 4th, 2 pm, Casco Bay Lines Ferry Terminal

Sponsored by Maine Sea Grant and Island Seafood

Monday March 5th, 9 am, St George Town Hall

Sponsored by Maine Sea Grant, Port Clyde Fisherman’s Co-op and Tenants Harbor Fisherman’s Co-op

Monday March 5th 4 pm, Deer Isle Stonington High School Cafeteria

Sponsored by Maine Sea Grant and Stonington Lobster Co-op

Tuesday March 7th, 9 am, Swan’s Island Fisherman’s Co-op

         Sponsored by Maine Sea Grant and Swan’s Island Fisherman’s Co-op

Tuesday March 7th 4 pm, Northeast Harbor Library, Mellon Room

Sponsored by Maine Sea Grant and Cranberry Isle Fisherman’s Co-op

Wednesday March 8th, 9:30 am, Gouldsboro Community Center

Sponsored by Maine Sea Grant, Beals/Jonesport Lobster Co-op & Winter Harbor Lobster Co-op


For more information contact Andi at 967-4555 or www.mlcalliance.org


For more information, please call the MLA office at 967-4555 or visit www.mainelobstermen.org.