Maine locals hold a seasonal lobster secret most home cooks don’t know. In summer and fall, lobsters off the rocky coast of Maine shed their hard shells, revealing soft, newly formed shells underneath that let the cold, salty ocean water in, where it infuses the meat like a natural brine, tenderizing and sweetening it. New-shell lobster has a brilliant red-orange color when cooked and is supremely soft and sweet, pairing perfectly with a brush of melted butter and high heat on the pan or grill.
Lobster fishing off Tenants Harbor village in the cold waters of Midcoast Maine is a tradition that goes back generations. The wharf and waterfront where the members of Tenants Harbor Fisherman’s Cooperative fish is protected from commercial development, ensuring this livelihood for the town can continue. The cooperative has also taken steps to make their practice as sustainable as possible, recently partnering with the Nature Conservancy to source a locally raised, plentiful bait-fish called alewives.
Every afternoon, boats motor back into the village of Tenants Harbor, weighed down with lobsters caught in the cold, clear waters of the nearby bay. Home to just 1,850 people, Tenants Harbor has been a fishing outpost for generations. A few years ago, 20 of the village’s independent commercial lobstermen and a dozen student apprentices came together to form the Tenants Harbor Fisherman's Cooperative, which made them all member-owners and let them share both costs and profits.
For generations, small fishing villages like Tenants Harbor have dotted the Maine coast. And while the rest of the world has come to know and obsess over delicious Maine lobster, the statewide industry has managed to stay largely small and local. The profession of lobster fishing in Maine has what’s called “limited entry,” which means that not just anyone can do it. The only way to become a lobstermen is to get a student license, become an apprentice, and then get on a (very long) waitlist for a license. There’s also an owner-operator requirement, meaning lobstermen have to haul their own traps, and can’t lease their licenses -- ensuring the industry stays localized.