These days, lobster is a prized seafood delicacy, and its expense reflects that fact. But even many seafood connoisseurs are not aware that lobster’s status as a delicacy is relatively recent; initially lobsters were so numerous that they used to pile up on North American shores. It was so widely available that it was regarded as fit only for lower members of society; in fact, some servants specified in their employment contracts that they would not eat lobster more than twice a week. It was also used as fertilizer, fish bait, and sold as a cheap canned food.
But its popularity started to spread, and by the mid-1800s it was a valued food on the east coast. Its popularity had some difficulty in spreading due to the fact that lobsters are too delicate to be shipped far. The ones with the thinnest shells never leave the coast, and taste the best; those with shells of medium thickness are not as sweet but can be shipped throughout the continental US, leading to higher prices; while conversely, those with the hardest shells are the most expensive because they can be shipped all over the world, but they also taste the worst. Even so, lobsters’ popularity continued to grow, and About.com’s Home Cooking article “Lobster History” notes that by the late 1800s, lobster sales reached 130 million pounds a year. But lobsters are a slow-growing species, and could not sustain that level of harvesting for long; whereas 100 years ago a fisherman might catch a 50-year-old, 40-pound specimen, these days most lobsters sold are less than 10 years old and weigh one to two pounds.
Although conservation efforts have ensured that lobster remains a viable species that can continue to be harvested, the initial enthusiasm with which they were caught has seriously deprived modern connoisseurs of the chance to taste giant, ancient lobsters. It would be interesting also to see and study the effects of old age on lobsters, as they are suspected of being able to live indefinitely. Human predation has limited them to their present state; but there is far more that can be learned from them than just how they taste.