Lobsterman Nick Pellechia of South Portland lowers a lobster trap to his sternman Zach Fitts of Cape Elizabeth at Union Wharf in Portland in 2022. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

An Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission board has enacted new rules that could change the size of lobsters Maine fishermen can legally harvest in the hope that the changes will ultimately preserve the fishery.

The American Lobster Board has passed a policy that will put new size limits in place if data shows a 35% decrease in the local lobster population compared with counts from previous years.

If the fishery reaches that trigger point, the regulations would increase the minimum size of lobsters that lobstermen can keep.

The board has passed the policy in order to “improve the resiliency” of the lobster population in Maine waters by increasing the number of younger, breeding lobster that go unharvested. The policy comes amid data showing that warming waters related to climate change, which were at first a boon to Maine’s lobstering industry, could soon be its downfall.

While the board’s intent is to create more stock, some of Maine’s lobstermen fear the regulations will add to a growing number of rules that could affect the sustainability of their businesses, saying 1-pound lobsters would no longer be harvestable under the new size minimums.

Lobstermen Doug Grant and Rob Rutter were having this conversation on Monday afternoon, next to Grant’s boat, the Northstar, on Widgery Wharf in Portland.


They’re both concerned about having to change their gear and the size of lobster they can catch, which they fear is inevitable.

Lobsterman Rob Rutter, owner of the Devotion, in Portland on Monday, explains how he had to change his gear last year under new regulations aimed at protecting the critically endangered North American Right Whales. With new regulations intended to increase Maine’s lobster population, Rutter is concerned he doesn’t have much of a future in lobstering. Kay Neufeld/Press Herald 

The specifics of the policy would require lobstermen to shorten their gauges – tools they use to measure the lobster’s carapace to determine whether they’re legally allowed to harvest them. If the American Lobster Board determines Maine has hit that trigger point by October, the minimum point on that gauge will increase from 3.25 to 3.31 inches in June 2024, and then to 3.38 inches in June 2025.

The policy also would increase the size of the escape vents lobstermen have on their traps.

Even though these changes are just a fraction of an inch, lobstermen say the amended regulations could have a profound impact on their businesses.


Rutter said he’s concerned about spending more time and money adjusting his gear to comply with a growing list of regulations.


Grant is concerned about how his traps could be damaged by replacing the vents. The replacements could score the vinyl of the traps, some of which he’s had for 30 years, and then cause them to rust – another expense.

However, the expenses run beyond the immediate costs to get in compliance with the regulations.

Grant and Rutter both said they expect that the new stipulations would knock 1-pound lobsters off the menu. Those crustaceans are one of the consistent money-makers for lobstermen, Grant said. With larger vent sizes, he said 1-pound lobsters will be able to escape and with higher minimums on the gauges, lobstermen will have to throw them back in the water anyway.

“By having that increase, we’re going to lose thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars,” Grant said.

Rutter said the price wholesalers are paying lobstermen for their catch is already at a low.

The American Lobster Board, for its part, does acknowledge that there will be initial economic impacts on the lobstering industry, according to Caitlin Starks with the ASMFC.


“But it’s expected to be a more short-term impact,” she said.

From the board’s perspective, the immediate negative impacts will turn fruitful for lobstermen further down the line when there are more lobsters to catch.

“It’s also important to note that this is a proactive measure that is intended to protect the spawning stock of this fishery, thereby protecting the long-term economic interests of fishermen,” added Jeff Nichols, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

Lobsterman load traps onto a lobster boat at Custom House Wharf in Portland in July 2022. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Nichols said the state agency doesn’t anticipate that trigger point to hit anytime soon.

“Where we are right now at a 23% decline, versus the trigger level of 35% decline, it doesn’t seem likely that it would be something (the American Lobster Board) would see in October,” he said.

Grant and Rutter, however, are skeptical. They fear it’s an inevitability and that come June 2024, they’ll have yet another change to their ever-changing businesses.


Grant has been lobsterman for much of his life. He moved from Yarmouth to find some more success in Portland’s waters years ago. But he doesn’t know how much longer he can keep his job going.

“I’m not gonna have any choice (but to stop lobstering),” he said. “I can’t afford it, and I wouldn’t make my wife to go through that.”

As for Rutter, he feels stuck with so much invested and little hope of a financial return.

“I’ll just keep plugging along,” he said.

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