Maine Lobster Boat Tour | Things to Do in Portland, Maine

Dedication to quality and sustainability are a big part of the Maine lobster industry. From trap to tank, learn what’s in store on a Maine lobster boat tour.

By Aimee Tucker

Aug 21 2020

hauling up lobster trap

Hauling up a lobster trap.

Photo Credit : Aimee Seavey
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Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be on a Maine lobster boat? Last fall, I had the pleasure of participating in a “Lobster Immersion” experience with the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, and a commercial Maine lobster boat tour was just one of the many activities on the lobster-filled agenda. Ready to see how it works?
maine lobster boat tour
Ready to experience a Maine Lobster Boat Tour?
Photo Credit : Aimee Tucker
I already knew (don’t we all?) that Maine was famous for its lobster (in 2013, 85% of the lobster caught in the United States was in Maine), but some of what you’ll also see on a lobster boat tour is proof of the commitment to sustainability from both the state of Maine and those involved in the industry. For example, did you know that Maine lobsters of acceptable size (more on that later…) are 100% hand-harvested from small day boats, one trap at a time? And that there’s not just a statewide trap limit, but trap limits within individual lobstering zones? No factory farming here… We boarded the Lucky Catch, part of Lucky Catch Cruises, in Portland, Maine, and headed for the waters of Casco Bay. Let the Maine lobster boat tour begin!
Lucky Catch Cruises in Portland, Maine
The Lucky Catch lobster boat, part of Lucky Catch Cruises in Portland, Maine. Note the on-board lobster tank to store the caught lobsters that meet state requirements for capture.
Photo Credit : Aimee Seavey
Once we got out to sea, we learned how to set a new lobster trap. This required a net bag and trusty stock of bait fish. Also, rubbery aprons and gloves, which were appreciated.
lobster bait
Filling the bag with bait for the lobster traps.
Photo Credit : Aimee Seavey
Then, we motored to one of the Lucky Catch’s traps. Here, Captain Dave hauls up a trap to see what’s inside. In Maine, new commercial lobstermen (and lobsterwomen) must apprentice with veterans to learn the regulated, sustainable practices. You can’t just decide to be a commerical lobsterman and then start doing it — you’ve got to learn the ropes and rules!
hauling up lobster trap
Hauling up a lobster trap.
Photo Credit : Aimee Seavey
Inside, a few lobsters were ready for measuring. Maine has minimum and maximum size restrictions to protect both young lobsters and the large, healthy breeders. Lobstermen carry a handy gauge that measures the lobster from the eye socket to the rear of the body shell (where the tail starts). Lobsters measuring less than 3-1/4 inches or more than 5 inches go back into the water. Unlucky lobsters between  3-1/4 inches and 5 inches go into the on-board tank, and later, into your belly.
measuring the lobster
Measuring the back of the lobster. Does it meet the requirement of between 3-1/4 and 5 inches?
Photo Credit : Aimee Seavey
Checking to see if this lobster is within the legal length to keep.
Checking to see if this lobster is within the legal length to keep.
Photo Credit : Aimee Seavey
Many people think the best lobsters in the world come from Maine, and credit the pure Gulf of Maine seawater with giving the meat a special flavor. In particular, “New Shell” Maine lobsters (lobsters that have shed their old shells and grown new ones) are especially prized for their sweet meat and thinner shells, which are easier to crack. Peak harvest for New Shell lobsters runs from roughly June through November. On a Lucky Catch lobster boat tour, you’ll also learn how to tell the difference between male and female lobsters. Lobsters have feathery appendages called swimmerets (or pleopods) on their undersides. These swimmerets help the lobster swim, but where they’re located is also where the female carries her eggs. The first pair of swimmerets (the pair closest to the head) are soft on a female, but hard and bony on a male.
male vs female lobster
Male lobsters (like the one on the left) have hard and bony swimmerets.
Photo Credit : Aimee Seavey
It can be beneficial to be a female in the lobster world. Breeding females (meaning female lobsters carrying eggs, as seen in the photo below) must be returned to the ocean in all US and Canadian waters so they can continue having babies. This practice is one of the best protections of a healthy future for the lobster industry, and is strictly followed.
lobster eggs
A breeding female lobster with her cache of eggs. Breeding females are always returned to the sea to help ensure a healthy future supply.
Photo Credit : Aimee Seavey

When the breeding female is first caught by a commercial lobsterman, she’s also given a “v-notch” on her tail flipper to identify and protect her as a known breeder. That way, even when her eggs have hatched, the notch will tell other lobstermen of her breeder status, so they’ll know to put her back. This notching practice dates back to the early 1900s!

Our lady lobster did not yet have a v-notch, so Captain Dave gave her one. This lobster boat tour was a working tour! It is always on the first tail flipper to the right of the middle flipper.

The v-notch on the breeding female lobster's tail tells other lobstermen of the breeder's status so they'll know she's off-limits.
The v-notch on the breeding female lobster’s tail tells other lobstermen of the breeder’s status so they’ll know she’s off-limits.
Some of the lobsters in our traps were young things and went back into the ocean (phew!)
little lobster
The little guy is going back!
Photo Credit : Aimee Seavey
Most traps also contain a lively variety of marine life that have made their way inside and then couldn’t get out. Some common visitors include rock crabs, snails, starfish, and hermit crabs.
crab in lobster trap
Most traps come up with other sea life inside, too.
Photo Credit : Aimee Seavey
If a lobster met the size criteria, its claws were banded with a handy lobster claw band tool, and then it went into the on-board tank. Banding the claws not only protects the lobsterman, but the other lobsters. Lobsters don’t normally eat one another, but in captivity, with limited food and cramped quarters, well, they might…if they can. Thus, the bands.
putting bands on lobster claws
Banding the claws of the lobsters that made the cut. Once banded, they went into the tank.
After all of our traps had been checked and re-set, we motored back toward Portland with a few extra scuttling lobsters on board. Mission complete! The lobster boat tour experience left me with a deeper understanding of why a lobster dinner is such a treat. Yes, lobster is expensive, but it has to be in order to compensate for the labor and loss it takes to get it. The Maine lobsters on our plates have been hand-harvested from a wild environment following a strict set of size requirements. This often means that most of what comes on board in the trap goes right back into the ocean (including what’s left of the bait, much to the seagulls’ delight). How many other industries can claim such commitment to sustainability? Equally impressive are the incredibly hardworking Maine men and women, many of them part of multi-generational lobstering families, doing the harvesting. Maine has more than 5,600 independent lobstermen, making it (no surprise) is the largest lobster-producing region in the world. In 2014, they brought in more than 120 million pounds of lobster! In fact, the industry brings more than 1 billion dollars to the state’s economy each year. No wonder lobsters are everywhere in Maine — not just on menus, but license plates, at the annual Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland, and on every kind of souvenir. The only thing we can’t seem to agree on is whether the tail or claw meat is better. Have you ever been on a lobster boat tour? Want more Maine lobster? Check out my recap of another stop on the Maine Lobster Immersion experience, a visit to one of Maine’s most beloved spots for lobster, fried clams, and picture-perfect views: The Clam Shack | Kennebunk, Maine Already planning your summer lobster shack road trip? Check out our guide to the 12 Best Lobster Shacks in New England Thanks to the MLMC and Lucky Catch Cruises for a terrific Maine lobster boat tour experience! Lucky Catch Cruises. 170 Commercial Street, Portland. 207-761-0941; Catch a lobster boat tour the first weekend of May through the last weekend in October. This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated.