Maine’s soft-shell lobster season is fast approaching. That time of year when a lobster’s meat is savory, sweet, and tender. The soft-shell lobster season can’t last long enough for many lobster aficionados. In part, no doubt, because soft-shell season runs during the warmer months of the year, intimately connected to summer traditions like lobster rolls and old-fashioned Maine lobster bakes on the beach or ‘upta’ camp. Admittedly, soft-shell lobsters taste good and are as good as they get for a healthy meal. Loaded as they are with protein, important vitamins, and minerals, rich in omega-3s, and low in fat and calories.
Unlike the hard-shell lobster season, which runs from late fall throughout the winter and early spring seasons, the soft-shell lobster season occurs over the midsummer and fall seasons. As the name of the shell seasons suggests, how hard a lobster’s shell is depends on the time of year that an adult lobster molts and squirms out from its old, smaller shell and grows into its newer, larger one.
Understanding Lobster Molting
When an adult lobster sheds its old shell, molting is triggered by water temperature, so the commencing of soft-shell lobster season is more of an approximation than a hard and fast calendar date. Roughly, the soft-shell season can begin anytime midsummer—from late June through late July (and even early August some years).
The shedding of the old shell is necessitated periodically because lobsters continue to grow throughout their lifespan, which can last up to a century. The cold, pristine waters of the Gulf of Maine help slow a lobster’s metabolism down, allowing it to age slowly and, barring any predators or lobster traps, live longer and grow up to 3 or 4 feet in length.
How to Tell When a Lobster Has a Soft Shell
By late spring, a lobster is thoroughly encased in a shell hardened over the long winter months, filling out all the available space. Because lobsters are continually growing, they must shed their “heavy winter coat,” so to speak, and slip into a light, thinner one for the summer. To shed, a lobster will take in excess water to push and expand against its winter shell from the inside out until it splits, wiggle from the old shell, and emerge with a newer, larger, paper-thin exoskeleton soft shell.
It takes months for lobster shells to harden again. During that time, when the density of a lobster’s shell gradually thickens, the lobster world celebrates the soft-shell lobster season. More lobsters are caught in soft-shell season—around 80% to 85% of the annual haul in Maine—than any time of year. Certainly, demand is far greater when tourism peaks in the summertime. Trapping soft-shell lobsters takes less time and is less difficult than in winter when lobsters migrate far offshore, and the catch and haul is conducted in harsh seas and subzero temperatures. When coastal water temperatures warm in the summer, lobsters migrate back inshore to shed and grow into their new shells.
Though, in truth, there is no “best time of the year” to order and enjoy live Maine lobsters—lobsters taste delicious any time of the year—the soft-shell produces softer, more tender meat, whereas a hard-shell lobster’s meat is regarded for its texture. The meat of a soft-shell lobster even looks different from a hard-shell lobster. Before and right after shedding, a lobster’s carotenoid pigments concentrate, turning its meat red—a true sign that the lobster meat is from a soft shell.
Another sign of a soft shell is the size of its shell concerning its body weight. Because soft-shell lobsters have yet to grow into their newer, larger shells, they hold less meat per pound than a hard-shell does (which is why they sell less per pound than hard-shell lobsters). The larger shells hold excess salt water that marinates the meat, rendering it more tender and giving its uniquely sweet and salty taste that people worldwide crave.
Shop Fresh Lobsters at Klenda Seafood
With the soft-shell lobster season just around the corner, Klenda Seafood has got you covered! We offer fresh, Maine soft-shell lobster responsibly sourced directly from lobster fishermen dedicated to safe, sustainable lobster fishing practices. For the highest quality fresh lobster from Maine, order today online, and we’ll deliver lobster directly to your door. We also offer curbside pick-up at our South Portland location if you live locally – call for details and to place your order over the phone!