The Maine Lobster Industry|
A History of Culture, Conservation & Commerce
The History Press, 2014, paper, 128pp, $19.99
Cathy Billings has been the Associate Director for Communications and Development at the Lobster Institute (at U. Maine) since 2000. "The organization works for and with lobstermen on conservation, outreach and education programs designed to preserve and increase the famous crustacean, thus ensuring the future of both the industry and the way of life of the fishermen (and women) that has been active along the northern New England coast since the 1800s."
Her book, published last year, will not only be of interest to the folks in the industry but to everyone who has ever slurped up steamed lobster meat dripping with butter.
I have heard of the Lobster Institute for several years but always assumed that it was mostly a research organization. It is, but a lot more. Conservation and fishing methods with ensure the sustainability of the lobster population is a primary objective which is now wholeheartedly supported by the folks in the boats. But the book is more than a discussion of sustainability.
Billings follows the fishery from its earliest colonial days to the present. Research providing information about the life of the lobster and best fishing methods with which will maintain the present population will fill you in on the whys and wherefores of today's refined fishing methods. She also follows the evolution of packing methods which allow our peculiar and delicious local crustacean to be enjoyed worldwide. It's a bit of a stretch to imagine Maine lobster becoming a staple in Peking but it is certainly a sought after delicacy by the rich (if not famous) worldwide.
The discussion of historical prices is a strain on the imagination. "In 1880, the price per pound of lobster landing averaged just $0.02." In 1959 the price first crested 50 cents per pound. The highest price recorded was $4.63 in 2005.
Billings also touches on the distinctive design of lobster boats which hasn't changed much at all except for being fiberglass these days instead of wood.
Billings has put together a comprehensive history of the industry in a lively and informative style. No need to worry about vast columns of figures or scientific tomes on the swimmerets or function of the tomalley. She has covered the working waterfront with great respect and given us all a brisk, informative overview of this unique creature and the men and women who "lobster".