A lot of clawing over the lowly lobster

Go figure: Here in Connecticut, lobsters are becoming so scarce that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy felt compelled to issue an impromptu "pardon" and release a 15-pounder into the Mystic River while visiting Abbott's Lobster in the Rough in Noank a few weeks ago.

Up in Maine, fishermen are up to their ... uh, well, there are lots of lobsters. So many, as a matter of fact, that the United States is close to going to war with Canada over cheap Maine lobsters being trucked across the border.

OK, that's an exaggeration, but last week Canadian lobstermen set up blockades at factories and staged angry protests, dumped Maine lobsters in the street and held up signs saying things like, "No More U.S. Lobster."

For normally polite Canadians, this is tantamount to a riot.

All this over arthropods so grotesquely unappetizing they were used in Colonial times for fertilizer, bait or to feed prisoners and indentured servants, who hated them so much they insisted lobster be kept off the menu more than twice a week.

Look at a lobster, with its mottled carapace, beady eyes, alien-like antennae, spindly legs and of course, nasty, snapping claws - does it look like something you want to toss into a pot of boiling water and then devour?

Of course not, and most people felt that way until the early 1800s, when suddenly they became all the rage. Today, consumers gobble hundreds of millions of pounds of lobster every year - most of them harvested off the Maine coast, where cold, clean water, a rocky bottom and ample supplies of small fish, mollusks and worms keep them well fed.

According to the Associated Press, more than half of Maine's annual harvest - last year's catch topped 100 million pounds - is shipped to Canadian processors who turn the whole lobsters into meat and frozen products.

Canadian lobstermen complain the low price of Maine lobsters - as little as $2 a pound this year - is driving down the price they'll get for their catch when their seasons open. They said they need at least $4 a pound to pay for fuel, traps, bait and, of course, rubber bands.

In Maine, prices have hit a 20-year low and cut into profits of fishermen.

All this should be good news, though, for the bib-and-butter crowd, who can gluttonously over indulge without having to carry around a Visa Black Card.

Here in Connecticut, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection reported last month that lobster "landings'' - the amount commercial lobstermen take in from traps - have dropped from 3.7 million pounds in 1998 to a meager 142,000 pounds last year.

State marine biologists have all but declared a state of emergency and are urging a comprehensive study to determine why the marine crustaceans have been disappearing from Long Island Sound at such an alarming rate.

Scientists theorize warmer waters, over-fishing, insecticides contained in storm runoff and other chemicals may be to blame.

Whatever the reason, Connecticut lobster lovers can always drive to Maine. Or they can try to track down the 15-pounder presumably still scuttling around on the river bottom near Abbott's.

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