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How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean

by Trevor Corson

Pub Date: June 4th, 2004
ISBN: 0-06-055558-0
Publisher: HarperCollins

A close-up look at the Maine lobster fishery and at the feisty crustaceans on which it's based.

Boston-based journalist Corson focuses on a small community of lobstermen (and, of late, women) on Little Cranberry Island, in the Gulf of Maine. He follows them out to the hunting grounds on their boats, describes their traps and the onboard routine of baiting, setting, and emptying the huge wire cages. Working the same grounds as their grandfathers, the lobstermen face daily hostile elements and back-breaking work. Their prey, familiar on dinner plates around the world, was until recently one of the least understood creatures in the ocean. Scientists had determined that lobsters' sense of smell was highly developed, and assumed that female lobsters used their pheromones to lure the males of the species to mate with them. Only when a mixed group of captive lobsters was assembled in artificial habitats similar to those in the wild did the scientists discover that the males stayed at home and the females came to woo them. One female lobster after another would take up housekeeping with the dominant male, stay until she was impregnated, then make place for one of her sisters. Each female could carry hundreds of thousands of eggs on her tail. Lobster fishermen, who followed the practice of returning pregnant females to the water, assumed that the population was in little danger of overfishing; government scientists assumed the worst, and pushed for tighter restrictions on the size of lobsters that could be kept. Corson follows the fishermen and the maverick scientists who took their side in the dispute, along the way providing as complete a course in the lives of both lobsters and lobstermen as anyone could wish.

Charmingly written, full of fascinating detail: a delight.