If you’ve attended a Drink Tank you know it’s a lot of fun to collaborate with strangers. What you might not know is that this “Party with a Purpose” is only made possible by a series of local conversations and collaborations to produce an event as useful as it is fun. This was especially the case during our visit to Portland, Maine, for “Lobster Hack.”

We had a hunch that the lobster trap might be a fun and relatable topic to experiment with design thinking, but would it be useful to kickstart this conversation?  Would the research community find this interesting? Would lobstermen find this conversation useful? Would participants find this fun? Fortunately we were able to connect with Mainers who were willing to answer questions, tour their boats, and visit their labs. They were generous with their time and insights, and helped us understand some of the nuances of a truly unique fishing practice and culture. While it’s impossible to truly understand the pride associated Maine lobster from a single blog post (believe us, we tried) we’ve compiled excerpts from some of our conversations with lobstermen below. Read on to more learn more about the tradition and legacy of the lobster trap design – and cheers to our Maine Collaborators.

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Curt Brown has been lobstering since he was seven years old. As a marine biologist and lobsterman with Ready Seafood, brings a valuable perspective on the delicate balance between conservation and commerce in the lobstering industry.

Before the event we visited Curt on his boat to ask him about how the industry works, and what makes the Maine lobstering industry so unique. 

What do you want people to know about lobsters from Maine?  

  1. It’s healthy: Other than being delicious, lobster is also very very healthy (minus the butter, lobster has less cholesterol than skinless chicken breast)

  2. It’s sustainable: It's a very sustainable fishery. We're one of the few sustainable fisheries in the entire world. Our landings have actually been going up and up and up over the years and that's the result of lobsterman being very conservation minded about their industry.

  3. It’s worth the investment: People will oftentimes scoff at the price of lobster but if they knew the amount of work that went into harvesting – from hardworking lobstermen and lobsterwomen up and down the coast of Maine – they wouldn't scoff at the price. It's hard work so buy Maine lobster and enjoy it.

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Zach got his first license when he was 10. He grew up on Long Island in Casco Bay and steadily grew his lobstering practice until it he studied marine biology and started concentrating on other ground fisheries. Before the event we asked him a couple questions:

What do you think is important for people to know about the Gulf of Maine?

We're living in a time of immense change for the Gulf of Maine – environmental, economical, cultural. When I was a kid, there used to be more groundfish boats, ground fishing was a viable opportunity. As people started to get out of the groundfish industry, the effort in the lobster industry has increased dramatically, as have the landings and the biomass of lobsters. So we've really turned into a one fishery ecosystem.  

Do you think there's an opportunity to redesign the lobster trap?

The lobster industry is incredibly traditional, for better or for worse, so by bringing together people from different areas of expertise and thinking about problems that we as an industry have been thinking about  – I think it's a fantastic opportunity.

What are some things you wish people from outside the state of Maine new about lobstering?

We care passionately about the Gulf of Maine. By supporting our industry, it's really supporting a way of life. It's supporting the islands. At the turn of the century there were over a hundred unbridged island communities in Maine and in the year 2000 there was 8 left, maybe 12.

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Luke grew up on Cape Elizabeth and is excited to share the food he grew up with – Luke's Lobster now has 25 locations around the world, making Luke one of Maine’s most successful “lobsterpreneurs”. When asked what excited him about the Drink Tank Lobster Hack he said, “Lobster Hack event "Lobstering really is about community, and it's fun to see the Maine community out here working to solve a potential problem. You've got everything from fisherman, to brewmasters talking about how they trap yeast, to a friendly neighbor whose best friend is a fisherman."

Interested to learn more about why we love lobster from Maine? The aptly-named Lobster from Maine site is a treasure trove of inspiration, recipes, and images. (we even used some of these images at Lobster Hack!) Enjoy!