Commercial Fisheries News - December 1999

Shipping live lobsters

The key to keeping lobsters alive during shipping is to make sure they remain cool and moist at all times. Death during shipping is generally the result of oxygen deprivation.

Keeping lobsters cool is important because the cooler the lobster is, the less oxygen it uses. The higher the temperature, the faster the lobster uses up oxygen and the higher the probability of drying out. Keeping lobsters moist is even more important because the gills (like our lungs) need moisture to function. When handled properly, lively, hard-shelled lobsters can easily live out of water for 4 or 5 days.

Keeping lobsters moist doesn't mean that they have to be submerged. In fact, lobsters are much better off being out of water during shipment. Therefore, do not pack them directly on ice because the melted ice can become a problem. A lobster in fresh water swell ups and can burst. Dry ice should not be used either because it produces large amounts of carbon dioxide that can asphyxiate the lobsters.

Shipping in seawater is not recommended unless the holding tank is outfitted with aeration equipment. Without adding aeration, a lobster in a container of seawater quickly uses up the dissolved oxygen in the water and suffocates. Refrigerated trucks are ideal because they maintain the proper temperature and moisture.

For best results, lobsters should be relatively cool before they are packed so that they are not stressed by going from warm to cold temperatures. Although lobsters are more successful at coping with temperature changes in the warm to cold direction, they aren't generally good at coping with rapid changes in temperature.

If possible, start with lobsters that have been kept at temperatures no greater than 4S°-50°F. Optimal shipping temperatures are between 32° and 40°F. Be careful not to get the lobsters too cold - they freeze at the same temperature as seawater: approximately 29°F.

It is also best not to feed lobsters for two or three days before shipping. Full stomachs result in lobsters using more oxygen and increase the incidence of vomiting. No need for messy lobsters.

One last cautionary note: Leave some "breathing" room in, around, and through the container. Shipping lobsters in airtight containers can result in carbon dioxide buildup leaving too little oxygen for the lobsters. However, pack the lobsters tightly enough that their shells won't get broken during shipping. Intact, healthy lobster's ship better than those with open wounds.

To keep lobsters alive before and after shipping:

To keep lobsters alive during shipping:

Ask the Lobster Doc