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A lobster glut along the Northeast coast this summer has had wide-ranging consequences. The oversupply is so great that fishermen are losing money on their catch. And while New Englanders are enjoying bargain prices for this delicacy, don’t expect that to be the case everywhere. We explore the intricacies of the lobster market and consider the cultural appeal of these crustaceans.
- Doug Povich Owner, Red Hook Lobster Pound, D.C.
- Bob Bayer Professor of Animal and Veterinary Sciences and Director, Lobster Institute, University of Maine
Photo Gallery: Odd-Colored Lobsters
Video: A Day In The Life Of A Maine Lobsterman
Recipe: Lobster on the grill
Courtesy of Red Hook Lobster Pound.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Food Wednesday.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe mark the unofficial start of summer in many ways, Memorial Day weekend, a trip to the beach or that first taste of lobster. Whether served whole alongside some drawn butter, after being boiled or in a salad on a split-top bun with a pickle on the side, the crustaceans have in the span of a century gone from being the food of paupers to a coveted indulgence. Their luxury status has typically meant high prices to match.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThis year, though, a larger than usual harvest has led to rock-bottom prices for some supermarket shoppers, but the glut also means that many lobstermen are operating at a loss and has many in Maine questioning the international nature of the industry their state is so closely tied to. Here to talk about the appeal of and the market for lobsters is Doug Povich. He is the owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound food truck, which operates in and around Washington, D.C. Doug Povich, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. DOUG POVICHThanks, Kojo. Nice to be here.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from the Maine Public Broadcasting Network's Bangor studio is Bob Bayer. He is the director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine, where he's also a professor of animal and veterinary sciences. Bob Bayer, thank you for joining us.
MR. BOB BAYERPleasure, Kojo. Hello, Doug.
NNAMDIBob, lobster prices are at a 30-year low for this time of year because there are so many of them. What's behind this bigger catch?
BAYERWell, I wish I knew for sure, but the smart money says it's related to climate change. Warmer than normal water throughout the winter into this spring started the lobsters shedding into legal size for Maine early in the year. It actually started in Massachusetts, as well. And this has just meant that there's been a massive shed all at once so that we've got huge numbers of lobsters. And talking with some of the lobster fishermen in our area, they are seeing catches they've never seen in a lifetime. So there are large numbers of lobsters.
BAYERAnd then, in addition, Canada, that does things a little bit differently in terms of the way they harvest lobsters, the areas that were open in the spring did very well. So those people that process lobster into frozen tails and pick meat had a good start and they actually paid higher prices in the spring than they might have if they knew what was coming.
NNAMDIDo you think this summer marks the start of a new normal or that it's an anomaly?
BAYERWe're all waiting to see. We're actually waiting to see what's gonna happen this fall, to see whether we've caught up our lobsters and there won't be a fall fishery or whether it's gonna continue to be strong. So we'll see.
NNAMDIWe've heard reports of supermarkets selling steamed lobster for 3.99 a pound in Massachusetts. Why aren't we seeing those kinds of deals here in Washington, D.C., Bob?
BAYERWell, these are lobsters that, in the summertime, they don't ship all that well. You can ship them to Washington, but you're sort of at the edge of the range. In addition, by the time you get to Washington, there are a lot of people that have had their hands on those lobsters before you get them. It's not just the fishermen. You've got a dealer. And there may be a couple of middle men. And each one is adding 50 cents to a dollar onto the price of that lobster.
NNAMDIDoug Povich, if I joined the lob-stalkers and track down one of your food trucks somewhere in the city on any given day, where does the lobster I enjoy in say L'Enfant Plaza or Union Station come from?
POVICHIt comes from Maine, of course. We're very proud of that. And more specifically, Portland, Maine area. And that's about all I can tell you.
NNAMDIAh, there's secrets involved here. If you wanna know some of these secrets call and ask Doug yourself, 800-433-8850. Are you a lobster lover? What's your favorite way to enjoy the crustaceans? 800-433-8850 or if you have questions about lobster ecology and biology, you can also give us a call or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or you can simply go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there.
NNAMDIBob, some consumers may be rejoicing over these low prices, but many lobstermen are taking a loss on their catch. Why are they being paid so little if many of us are still, well, paying a lot?
BAYERWell, the price is set at the dock. And those low prices are related to the huge catches. We're dealing with a very perishable commodity. You've gotta move it quickly. It's either going to be consumed locally. And by locally we're talking within probably 300 to 400 miles or it is processed, again, into picked meat and frozen lobster tails. So that's really the story. If your listeners are interested in more detail, our website, lobsterinstitute.org, has the transcript from our annual U.S./Canada Lobster Fishermen's Town Meeting.
BAYERAnd about three years ago the topic was the price of lobster, where does it come from? And it really talks about who gets what at what level and this includes even transportation overseas, those additional costs.
NNAMDIYou can find a link to that website at our website, kojoshow.org. In case you're just joining us it's a Food Wednesday conversation on lobster love with Bob Bayer, director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine, where he's also a professor of animal and veterinary sciences and Doug Povich, the owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound food truck, which operates in and around Washington. Doug, it's my understanding that your family, which has deep roots both here in Washington, D.C. and in Maine, went to what some might call extreme measures to eat lobsters when you were a kid. Please explain.
POVICHYes, that's true. My grandfather…
POVICH…Shirley was born in Maine in Bar Harbor -- or as they say up there Ba Haba. And…
NNAMDII knew you'd say that.
POVICH…part of a Jewish family that kept kosher in a house that they eventually moved to in Bath, Maine, which is on the Kennebec River. And because lobster isn't kosher we had a problem. And my father managed to solve the problem rather creatively by building a dock for the sole purpose of having a room for a picnic table where we could all join around and eat lobster.
NNAMDISo that you didn't contaminate the house…
NNAMDI…when eating lobster. There was a time when lobster was not considered a luxury, in fact was seen as quite the opposite. How has our perception of lobster as a meal changed in the last century? I'll start with you, Bob Bayer.
BAYERWell, it's basically transportation. As transportation got better and people got a taste for this wonderful product, which by the way is good and good for you, the product really became a coveted item. And I think that's really what we owe it to, is good transportation as it developed over the years.
NNAMDIIn your case, Doug, talk about how lobster has evolved in our culture.
POVICHYeah, I'm most familiar with the lobster roll. And I think the accessibility of eating lobster without having to pick through a whole lobster has helped in recent years kind of expand the desirability and the popularity of the product.
NNAMDIWell, of course we mentioned your grandfather earlier. Shirley Povich is a legend in Washington as a sports writer at the Washington Post. But there was a time in 1914 when your grandfather was born in Maine, when there was this perception that lobsters were not for people of means.
POVICHAbsolutely. He grew up in Bar Harbor and was a caddy at a golf course there before he came to Washington. And the poor people at that time would eat lobster all the time. And the wealthy who were at the country clubs and in the big houses there shunned it. But over time, as the professor said, it's grown and expanded I guess primarily due to transportation.
NNAMDIBecause, Bob, it's my understanding you've done some oral histories about how lobster was viewed during the depression and who ate it.
BAYERYeah, I was just about to mention that, Kojo, so I'm glad you brought it up. In talking with some of the older fishermen, they talk about during the depression and you could tell the poor kids along the coast 'cause they were the ones that had lobster sandwiches every day. And I think they would have enjoyed swapping for peanut butter and jelly on any occasion. The other thing that I heard in interviewing some of these older fishermen is that oftentimes they were short lobsters. And enforcement would turn a blind eye to these illegally harvested lobsters 'cause they realized people had to eat.
NNAMDIA lot of outsiders think of New England and Maine when -- Maine in particular of course -- when they consider the lobster. How significant are these crustaceans to Maine's cultural identity, Bob?
BAYERIt's the icon for Maine. When you think of Maine you think of lobster. And it certainly is tied to the culture, tourism and without this way of life I think Maine would be very different.
NNAMDIDoug, do you think that the work involved in cooking lobster yourself is part of what makes it such an indulgence?
POVICHWell, fortunately I don't have to do the cooking. With as much lobster as we go through we buy our meat already cooked and processed from one of the major processing plants up in Maine, but on a personal level, at parties, absolutely. It is a great joy to cook and eat a fresh lobster from Maine.
NNAMDIIt's not say as complicated as tackling whole blue crabs or crab cakes is it?
POVICHNo. Much easier to eat than a crab. And I think we may try to test that theory up in Annapolis and in Baltimore and see how the crab eaters up there fair with the lobster.
NNAMDIWith the lobster. That'll be fascinating to watch. 800-433-8850's the number to call to join this Food Wednesday conversation on lobsters. Here is John in Fairfax, Va. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNGreat. Thanks. I was wondering if the low lobster prices have helped tourism in Maine. I know I heard about it and my wife and I decided to go camping up there. It seemed real crowded and the lobster rolls were about three times as much as they used to be 20 years ago when we went last time. So…
BAYERDon't know whether this is a draw for tourists or not. I know the Rockland, Maine Lobster Festival had very good attendance. And those are major lobster consumers that are coming just for that purpose. And it's not something that we measure, but I suspect it may be part of the picture 'cause there's been a huge amount of press around the low price of lobsters. And it's the sort of thing that you see people selling lobster at the roadside for anywhere from 3.50 to maybe $5 a pound or each.
BAYERYou see lobsters at farmers markets. It's just so available that may be part of the picture, again, this national publicity about these low prices bringing people.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, John. Onto James in Washington, D.C. James, your turn.
JAMESHey, thanks for taking my call. A quick question, I'm a big fan of grilled lobster. And I've been searching around the city. I'm not able to find it. Any suggestions?
POVICHActually grilled lobster is one of my favorite ways to eat it. And we do have a recipe for that that my cousin Susan, who started this business up in Brooklyn, N.Y., Red Hook Brooklyn, has a recipe that I'd be happy to share with you.
JAMESBut in Washington, specifically, anyone have an idea where I could get that dish?
POVICHI haven't seen it around.
NNAMDIYou may have to prepare it yourself, if you get the recipe from Dough Povich, but you can find a link to the Red Hook Lobster Pound at our website, kojoshow.org, James. So you might want to communicate with him that way. And thank you very much for your call. Bob, speaking of grilled lobster, a lot of people avoid cooking lobster at home because, well, you have to put them into a pot of boiling water while they're still alive and kicking. So for those who are squeamish and may go pale at that thought, tell us, do lobsters feel pain?
BAYERWe think they don't. You can never give an absolute answer on that question. But if you look at the nervous system of the lobster -- and there's a very nice diagram on our website -- it looks like an insect. And lobsters are often referred to as big bugs. It has a very primitive nervous system. The comparison that we make on our website is to a grasshopper. And our thought is that the lobster doesn't have the physiologic apparatus to sense pain.
BAYERHowever, if this is -- if this movement that you see in the pot -- it does happen -- is a bother to you, there are a number of ways you can deal with it. You can put that lobster in the freezer. Don't freeze it but get it very cold and that slows down that very primitive nervous system. The other thing that you can do is you can -- a little swim in fresh water and they appear just to go to sleep. And then you can cook them after you've done that.
BAYERBut again, there's no brain, as we see it. There's what we call ganglia. There is a nervous system but it's very primitive.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation about lobster love on Food Wednesday. But you can join the conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850. Do you cook lobster yourself? If so, how? And if not, why not? If your family has ties to New England or tradition that involves lobster we'd love to hear about it. Call us at 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Doug Povich. He is the owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound food truck which operates in and around Washington, D.C. You've probably seen it. Bob Bayer joins us from Maine Public Broadcasting Network's Bangor studio. He is the director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine where he's also a professor of animal and veterinary sciences. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Doug, the Red Hook Lobster Pound food truck hit the streets of D.C. almost two years ago and was a near instant success. Were you at all surprised by how popular the truck was so early on?
POVICHWe were quite surprised. We were excited, obviously, about the reception that we received. But really had no idea that people were going to turn out as -- in such a big way.
NNAMDIAre the trucks busier in the summer months than they are at other times of the year?
POVICHYes, absolutely. We -- the business is seasonal. The lobsters are fresh in the summertime months. And when we get to the winter we -- the first year we thought there was going to be quite a drop off in business. But I think the newness and quality of the food actually sustained us quite well through the first winter. People were willing to stand in line in...
NNAMDI...in the snow. I've seen it.
POVICH...in the snow, 30 deep to still get their lobster. Our second winter was a little bit slower but we also had two trucks. So it's a little bit difficult to gauge.
NNAMDIBob Bayer, before we go back to the telephones -- and there are a lot of people who are waiting to join this conversation -- this oversupply of lobsters has highlighted some international trade issues, as well as falling prices. Why is so much of the lobster caught in the northeast processed in Canada?
BAYERA lot of it is history. The lobster freezing process was developed in Canada by a fellow by the name of Amiel Paterell (sp?) who was a friend of Clarence Birdseye. And that name may sound familiar. So the process was developed in Canada. In addition the history goes well with the Canadian tradition. Canada harvests their lobster in a different way. They have seasons. There are 41 different districts, each one with a distinct season. And there were traditionally seasons where a small what they referred to as a canner lobster is harvested. And it is harvested sustainably.
BAYERAnd that was the supply of most of the lobster meat that was canned and it was canned frozen. This came primarily from Prince Edward -- north side of Prince Edward Island and parts of New Brunswick. So a lot of this history so the infrastructure has been there for a number of years. In the 1990s when the Maine catch began to expand that's when they began to process American lobster. And there was really no other outlet 'cause there was minimal capacity in Maine for this product.
BAYEREven today I think there are three processing plants in Maine and there are probably well over 20 in the maritime provinces of Canada.
NNAMDIOkay. Back to the telephones. Bob, you mentioned that lobster is good and good for you, but here is Dan in Ashburn, Va. Dan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANThanks for taking my call, Kojo. I'd read at least one recommendation that you shouldn't have lobster more than once a month due to the mercury levels. And pregnant women and children shouldn't have it at all. So I'd be curious to hear your guests' comments on the mercury levels in lobster because it sure doesn't seem to affect the demand at all.
BAYERTo some degree, you're correct. There are toxins in the tamale, the green stuff that is the digestive gland of the lobster. It functions like your intestine and pancreas and liver all rolled into one. And there are health warnings related to consumption of tamale. However, the meat is virtually free of these toxins. So that is the issue. You're correct. There are issues about eating tamale and some people eat it anyway, or some people eat it occasionally. However, the meat is clear. And the tamale, as an organ does what it's supposed to do, it filters out and stores these toxins.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Dan. The other side of that coin is what Tamelin in Gaithersburg, Md. would like to address. Tamelin, your turn.
TAMELINThank you for taking my call.
TAMELINI heard you mention that there are benefits and good sides to eating lobster. I was just curious whether it was vitamins or minerals or what specifically was beneficial about eating lobster. And then just a quick comment that when I was a young child with my sister, the special occasions with my grandparents were always white linens at their house and lobster with drawn butter.
NNAMDIBob Bayer, what's good about eating lobster?
BAYERWell, it's a very high quality protein. It's low in fat. It's actually lower in fat than skinless white meat chicken. And this is a chance to dispel the cholesterol myth. It's lower in cholesterol than white meat chicken. And there's a lot of misinformation. It's a very healthy food. Where you get into trouble is when you start dipping it in drawn butter.
NNAMDIWell, Tamelin, those days are behind you, or maybe not so much, huh?
TAMELINWell, it sounds really health. I might have to eat more of that than salmon.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Tamelin. You mentioned this briefly earlier, Doug Povich, but expand on that a little bit. Where did the name Red Hook Lobster Pound come from?
POVICHWell, that came from Red Hook Brooklyn, New York.
NNAMDIWhich we don't normally associate with lobster.
POVICHWell, that's correct, although Red Hook is a -- and was a major port in New York City.
POVICHBut it -- with respect to our business started there because my cousin Susan and her husband Ralph came up with this crazy idea to use their storefront that they didn't have any use for to sell lobster out of. And Ralph ended up early on driving up to Maine, packing his truck full of fresh lobster, coming back down to Brooklyn and selling it out of the storefront. And it was a huge success.
NNAMDIAnd so let's call cousin Doug who has nothing better to do than his law practice and just give him some additional work. How did that come about?
POVICHWell, Susan wanted to expand the business, wanted to keep it in the family. And she asked me, she said if -- asked if I had any interest in doing this down in D.C. And I told her, well no, I have a fulltime job. I'm gainfully employed. But I have a friend who might be able to help me. And I don't really feel like doing a restaurant. It sounds like a lot of work and would a truck work? And she said, sure I'd love to do a truck in New York but the regulations here don't really allow that.
POVICHSo low and behold, my friend Leland Morris said yes to helping me build the business.
NNAMDIAnd that's what it is today. We look forward to a brick and mortar aspect of that but that's maybe later in the conversation. For the time being, Bob, what is a lobster pound?
BAYERWell, there are a lot of different definitions. It's -- it might just be a small tank that is keeping live lobsters, or there're also what we call title pounds that keep thousands of pounds of lobster crawling around on the bottom. Those are lobsters that are usually fed and we increase the muscle mass. It's kind of like a feedlot. And then we take them out later in the year and sell them as a very high quality lobster. They're also a very important part of the winter supply of lobster.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Dillon in Washington, D.C. Hi, Dillon.
DILLONHow you doing, Kojo? Thank you for taking my call. I just have a quick question and I'll take my answer off the air. Is there a difference in the quality or grade of lobster at different establishments that serve it? For example, is the lobster quality at a five start restaurant different from the lobster served inexpensively at, say Red Lobster? Thank you very much.
NNAMDIWhat do you know about that, Bob Bayer?
BAYERLobster is lobster. There are differences in the amount of meat that you might get out of a hard shell versus a new shell lobster. The flavor is going to be the same. About the only difference is the meat yield and the quality is excellent regardless of whether it's new shell, old shell, no matter where you get them. Red Lobster does a great job with lobster and you can do just as well at home.
NNAMDIBob, what's your own favorite way of enjoying lobster?
BAYERI'll steam it and I'll -- at today's prices I'll often steam a bunch of them and put them in the refrigerator just to snack on cold 'cause it's sorta like eating pistachios.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Dillon. We move on now to Holly in Baltimore, Md. Holly, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HOLLYYeah, I just am smiling and laughing at my fond memories of growing up in Massachusetts. The last comment or a couple before, the woman having lobster with white linens made me laugh because our idea of a lobster feast was to pull out a fitted sheet, put in on the table and just go to town and crack open the lobsters and make a mess. No white linens for us, drawn butter for sure and Ipswich steamers because it was in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where I grew up.
NNAMDIThank you for sharing -- but go ahead, please. You weren't finished.
HOLLYOne way that we got over the shame of putting the lobsters into the steam was to turn them upside down and spread out their claws and flip over their tail and rub their tail and it would put them to sleep. So we just very, you know, sympathetically put our lobsters to sleep before sticking them in the steamer and enjoying them.
NNAMDICome on. Rubbing the tail and putting them to sleep? Have you ever heard of that, Doug Povich?
POVICHI've heard of that, yes.
NNAMDIAh, I see. How about you, Bob?
BAYERDidn't work for me.
NNAMDIWell, we're glad it worked for you, Holly. Bob -- Doug, the authenticity of the lobster truck experience goes beyond the crustaceans. You don't serve up your sandwiches on any old bun or alongside chips and soda from just anywhere. Tell us about all of the pieces that add up to a full New England experience.
POVICHRight. Well, we were very -- it's very important to us that we maintain what we consider to be an authentic Maine experience at the truck. And that of course starts with the role itself. And in order to create that experience from our perspective, we start with obviously fresh Maine lobster meat. We then lightly dress it in a homemade lemon-based mayonnaise that is made by my cousin Susan in Brooklyn, a Culinary Institute graduate. And...
NNAMDIAs is your partner.
POVICHYes, absolutely. And then we -- the bun is a critical component from our perspective. We use an authentic J.J. Nissen bun top split New England style hot dog roll and grill that on a griddle with butter and top it all off with some sliced scallions and a little bit of sweet paprika.
NNAMDIWhat's the difference between a Maine roll and a Connecticut roll?
POVICHA Connecticut roll is essentially simply warm lobster meat poached in butter on the same bun.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Here now is Ryan in Washington, D.C. Ryan, you're on the air. Go ahead, Please.
RYANHey, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I grew up in the Cape and I actually worked at a place in Buzzards Bay called the Lobster Pot. And I cooked hundreds of pounds of lobsters over my high school years and lobsters rolls was ones that we used to make quite a bit. One lobster roll technique that you guys kind of always miss out on around here is the Cape Cod version of it, which is basically almost the same thing as the Maine roll, little light mayo, onions, scallions, but we also put lettuce -- iceberg lettuce in the hot dog roll. And it kind of keeps it from sogging up.
RYANSo I'm hoping the guys over at Red Hook -- maybe you guys wanna take the Cape Cod Roll and add it to the menu. But I also want to thank them for not butchering the lobster roll. My wife got one for me once in one of the restaurants -- I won't name them, but they're in Georgetown -- and they shredded the meat and put, worst of all, old bay over the whole thing. It was disgusting, in fact, religious to anybody from New England trying to have a lobster roll. So thank you guys at Red Hook. I hope you do get a brick and mortar place. If you guys could do that that would be awesome 'cause I'd love to sit in and have some fresh lobster rolls.
RYANAnd the reason why you guys are so successful in the wintertime, back in Boston and where we eat lobster rolls we still do business in the winter. We don't close down shops. So 4" of snow isn't gonna scare us away.
NNAMDICare to comment at all, Doug?
POVICHI think that's great. Thank you very much. We do actually add some shredded iceberg lettuce to the bottom of our roll, so maybe I'm mistaken and we've actually been serving Cape Code rolls this whole time.
NNAMDIWho knows. Whatever it is the customers keep lining up for it. John (sic) , thank you very much for your call. We move on now to Melba in Washington, D.C. Hi, Melba.
MELBAHi, how are you, Kojo? I love your show.
MELBAI was just going to comment. James was wondering where you could get grilled lobster and I had wonderful grilled lobster at Kellari on K Street in Washington, D.C.
NNAMDIHum, that's a place I got to way too often but I've never had the grilled lobster there.
MELBAIt's wonderful. They just split the lobster in half, literally the whole thing and then put it on the grill and serve it with just lemon and butter.
NNAMDIOh, I hope it's very expensive because the next time we go, my friend is paying. So I'm gonna try it the next time we go. Thank you very much for your call. You too can call us at 800-433-8850 to join our Food Wednesday conversation on lobster love with Doug Povich, owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound food truck which operates in the Washington area, and Bob Bayer, director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine. He's also a professor of animal and veterinary sciences there.
NNAMDIDoug, there's more on the menu that I mentioned. Tell us a little bit about what other offerings you have on the trucks these days and what's coming up this winter.
POVICHRight. Well, we have, as we mentioned, the two styles of lobster rolls, the Maine and Connecticut -- or now Cape Cod. And we also recently introduced a lobster BLT which is our -- essentially a Maine roll with a couple strips of apple smoke bacon. And that has been a very popular item for us. We also serve a sweet Maine shrimp roll which back in -- when we first started was named by the Washington Post as the top sandwich of the year. And in the winter we serve a clam chowder -- New England style clam chowder. And this winter we're hoping to introduce a lobster mac and cheese.
NNAMDIIt is my understanding that when the lobster BLT was first introduced, a certain individual did not think it might fly until, well, he tasted it. Well, that was you.
POVICHOh, yeah. That was me. My cousin had started serving it up in Brooklyn and she swore by it, and I wasn't really convinced, but I had one and honestly, I was amazed.
NNAMDIAfter the first bite, the man was hooked. Let's get some international takes on this. We will start with Jess in Alexandria, Va. Jess, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JESSHi. I had a quick question. Having grown up around the Caribbean and Florida in the southeast U.S., we had Caribbean spiny lobster. And having never had a New England lobster, can you compare the flavor or -- somebody mentioned earlier grilling them. We used to always just catch them -- hand catch them and split them open and grill them on the fire with just butter and a little garlic. Is Maine comparable, the texture and cooking times, and sizes, or -- I'll take it offline.
NNAMDIWell, having grown up in the Caribbean, I can tell you that the spiny lobsters in the Caribbean don't tend to have the size or the fleshiness of Maine lobsters, but the real expert here is Bob Bayer.
BAYERThere are lobsters from all over the world. There are very few areas that have clawed lobsters as we have in the northeast, and they all taste different. It seems as though as you travel around, everyone -- they prefer their own lobster, whatever is native to their area. They're different. To me they're all good. I prefer the Maine lobster to any other myself.
NNAMDIJess, thank you very much for your call. Now onto Eritrea and Adia who is calling from Washington D.C. Adia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ADIAHi, Kojo. So I'm Eritrean, and in the summers we often go back home and we're on the Red Sea, you know, like right next to the sand.
ADIAI know you know, just, you know, just in case Bob didn't know, but -- it's a small country. But when we go back, half of the country is like Orthodox Christian, the other half is Muslim, just about. And neither group is really supposed to eat crustaceans. So we have like the biggest, oldest lobsters ever over there. I mean, you know, with the exceptions of those of us who kind of don't adhere to that rule that go back, and then tourists, especially the Australians, those lobsters get to live really to be huge, and they're old. I didn't even know they could be 80 and 90 years old. Are they safe for us to eat when we go over there, because actually, they are pretty old.
BAYERI'm sure they are. I know the situation with our lobsters as they get larger, they taste fine and they're just as healthy for you and healthy as can be no matter how big they get.
NNAMDII've never thought about asking about the age of my lobsters, but I guess to each his own. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on Food Wednesday, lobster love, and take your calls at 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Food Wednesday conversation on lobsters. We're talking with Bob Bayer, director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine where he's also professor of animal and veterinary sciences. Doug Povich is the owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound food truck which operates in and around Washington D.C. Back to the phones. Here is John in Bethesda, Md. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNHi, gentlemen. Mr. Povich, about 60 years ago or so, I used to go to a restaurant which was well, partly a restaurant and partly a take-out seafood place called Sam's Place in Bass, Maine, and I am guessing that Sam Povich was your grandfather.
NNAMDIWell, here's this email we got from Roberta on Capitol Hill, John. "I just came back from my annual visit to Maine, and the Morris Povich store is gone but not forgotten. An old sign advertising the store is painted on a wall, presumably part of the building where the store once thrived. The Washington Post had a piece in its op ed section a few weeks ago, opining that the current huge haul lobster is preface to an inevitable lobster decline." That's a question I'll pose to Bob Bayer, but the fact that he -- that John in Bethesda is referencing one Povich, and Roberta in Capitol Hill is referencing another is an indication of what, Doug Povich?
POVICHWell, there are a lot of Povich's in Maine. My grandfather was one of nine children, so there -- it branches off from there. To my knowledge, however, there's no Povich that has ever run a restaurant in Maine. Certainly Morris Povich was a great uncle of mine, and that was a clothing store.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, John. The aforementioned grandfather, as I said, is known as a legendary sports writer, but not as the owner of a restaurant as far as I know. But let's talk about Red Hook for a little while longer, because it is my understanding that even though lobster tails are a popular treat, you don't serve up any tail meat from your trucks. Why not?
POVICHThat's correct. We believe that the claw and knuckle meat of the lobster is the most tender and sweetest, and frankly, the tail would be very difficult for us to process in a way that would be quick enough. We would have to chop it up, and we tend to prefer to stay with whole chunks of lobster, so you'll get full claws and full knuckles on our rolls.
NNAMDIAnd Bob Bayer, the last part of Roberta's email question was that the Washington Post opined that the current huge lobster haul is preface to an inevitable lobster decline. Can you comment on that?
BAYERNo one knows. It could continue to go just the way it is. As we look at it in evaluating the lobster stock, the lobster stocks are really strong. It's a very well-managed fishery in the U.S. and Canada, and we have what we call stock safety built into our lobster population. We throw back anything that has eggs, we throw back anything that's over a certain size or under a certain size, and this is part of the breeding population. Additionally, we put a conservation mark which is cut into the tail of lobsters that have eggs. It's called the V notch, and when those lobsters are caught, they can't be landed.
BAYERSo we have a huge brood stock. It's possible we might have a bad year in terms of stock settlement, but we do have the stock safety so that if there is a bad year, we've got the breeding population so that they'll come back the following year.
NNAMDISo are we talking about in an odd way, even though we've heard a lot about overfishing, we're talking about a success story here when it comes to lobsters?
BAYERI think we are talking about a success story, but some of it is also tied to climate change and the fact that we've caught up a lot of the predators that we used to worry about consuming little lobsters.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here now is Kevin in Arlington, Va. Kevin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KEVINHi, Kojo. I'm a big fan. I've been listening all summer. I vacation in Cape Cod, and I think I saw the Maine truck in Arlington. I was wondering how do you find these trucks? I'm really interested in having some lobster since I won't be at the Cape this summer.
POVICHWell, you can follow us at Twitter @lobstertruckdc, or you can check out our website, redhooklobsterpounddc.com, and we also have a Facebook page if you just search Red Hook Lobster Pound D.C., you'll find us. And we post our locations daily, and in fact we have a monthly schedule there as well.
NNAMDIAnd I think you may have answered -- Kevin, thank you for your call -- Pat in Washington's question also. Pat, was your question just answered?
PATYes. It was pretty much the same. I don't work downtown, but I am from Connecticut, and I have to say that my husband works at EPA headquarters, and my daughter works across the street. As soon as my husband spots the truck he quickly calls or emails her to run out and -- so that she can catch him. But that's what I was wondering, yeah, how and, you know, when do you know where the truck is going to be at a certain time.
POVICHYeah. If you go on our website you can actually subscribe to get an email pushed to you when the truck's in your location.
NNAMDIThank you very...
PATSo if you're, you know, like I'm in Chevy Chase. Do I get an idea during the week of where you'll be, or...
POVICHYeah. Yes, you will. You'll get a -- there's a list of all of our stops, about 45 stops, and you just click off on the box and you'll find us.
NNAMDIThank you very much.
BAYERDoug, do you sell wine or beer?
POVICHI wish. I wish. Nobody's allowed to do that from a truck yet. We're working on that.
NNAMDIThat would lead to technically drinking on the street.
NNAMDIHere is Rob in Fairfax, Va. Rob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBHey, thanks very much. Enjoying the program. In fact I'm eating a lobster right now. My question is this. My wife and I were up in Maine and we got in a discussion with the locals about what the perfect size lobster was in terms of most meat in the shell. They offered us a thesis that it was a two-pound lobster, and went on to explain, and I'm curious whether these gentlemen have any thoughts on that. Thanks a lot.
BAYERI agree. Two pounds is just about right.
NNAMDIAny opinion that, Doug?
POVICHMy grandmother, Shirley's wife, Ethel, swore that a pound and a quarter was absolutely the sweetest meat that she could -- that you could have. So I'll stick with that answer.
NNAMDIPound and a quarter or a two-pounder. Bob, in addition to this over supply issue, we've also noticed a few stories about either unusually colored lobsters with blue or calico shells, and very large 20-plus-pound lobsters turning up. What causes those two anomalies?
BAYERWe've always seen these color morph lobsters over the years. I think that people have become more sensitive. With social media it makes news more quickly. But we see blue ones, red ones, calicos. The most rare is the albino, and we've actually kept a few of these -- we've bred blue lobsters, and if you breed a blue male to a blue female you get all blue offspring, and we've used them as markers to follow the hatchery release of lobsters.
NNAMDIBut, of course, why, despite all of these interesting colors do they all turn red when you cook them?
BAYERIt's a matter of removing the masking pigments, and with the blue ones, they turn sort of pinky color. It's not the bright red, and the white ones, although I've never had the chance to see a cooked albino, I assume if it's a true albino there is no pigment, and it's going to stay white. But you've denatured the masking pigments, and what's left are the red keratinoid-based pigments.
NNAMDIBetween the preferences expressed between the one-point-something pound and two pounds, I have heard that the larger the lobster the tougher the meat. Is that true?
BAYERThat's not been my experience.
NNAMDIHow about you, Doug?
BAYERYou may see it differently.
POVICHI -- it's difficult for me. I had a friend cook a 25-pound lobster one time, and I can tell you that that meat was definitely tougher than what you would find in a much smaller lobster.
NNAMDIBut you don't have wider sample than that?
NNAMDIHere is Nori in Alexandria, Va. Nori, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NORIHello, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I actually grew up in Maine most of my life, and my father was a friend of fisherman that actually caught lobster every month or whenever it was in season, so I always had the indulgence of having lobster whenever I wanted to and what not. And now that I'm here in Virginia, whenever we go up there to visit family, we always bring lobster back, and my question was already answered about the sustainable fishing, so when -- what part of the year are lobsters usually caught, or when are they fished and whatnot?
BAYERWell, in Maine, there is no closed season, however, most of the fishing takes place in the summer into the fall, and there are a few fisherman that will fish year round. It's difficult, the boats, generally speaking are not designed for the winter fishery. Those that do fish don't get out very frequently. However, during the wintertime, most of the market is supplied from the Canadian fishery which does have seasons, and their major season opens just after our Thanksgiving and go through the winter.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Nori. Here is Lynn in Sykesville, Md. Lynn, go ahead, please.
LYNNHi, thank you for taking my call. I go up to Maine almost every other year for a vacation and spend the time most in South Harpswell.
LYNNAnd I have friends who live in Groton, Ct., and they insist of me bringing the Maine lobster down even though they get lobster often where they live. So I was just wondering what the difference is. They claim it's the colder water, and they like it better from Maine.
NNAMDIWell, here's what we -- and email we got from Matt who said, "I live in the northwest now, but I'm originally from Clinton, Ct., on Long Island Sound. Let it be said I much prefer the Connecticut-style lobster roll from the Red Hook Lobster Truck. My uncle was a lobsterman out of Branford, Ct., and would often give us the smaller lobsters or those with only one claw." I'll get back to that in a second, but first I'd like to hear from both Doug and Bob about the Maine-Connecticut lobster comparison. Bob?
BAYERDoug, you go first. That's -- it's difficult actually. I don't know that there's a difference. I always wonder if we did a blind tasting how it would come out. I know the different between -- everyone swears their lobster from their particular harbor is the best in the world. To me it's all good, and I'd have a hard time telling the difference. We do know that the flavor is affected more by what the lobster is eating than by water temperature.
NNAMDIYour turn, Doug.
POVICHYeah. I can tell you that actually to my knowledge I've never eaten anything other than a Maine lobster, so I don't have a way of comparing the two. The lobsters that we get are banded Maine product, and we're going to stick to that.
NNAMDIWe got about 30 seconds for you to answer this one, Bob Bayer. "Is there any connection between the increase in the lobster population and shark population in New England?" That from Jim via email.
BAYERI don't think so.
NNAMDIOh, well, that was a good and brief answer. Bob Bayer is…
BAYERYou said we didn't have much time.
NNAMDI...is the director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine where he's also professor of animal and veterinary sciences. Bob Bayer, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIAnd Doug Povich is the owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound Food Truck which operates in the Washington area. Doug Povich, thank you very much for your call -- for joining us.
POVICHThank you very much for having me.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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