Commercial Fisheries News - April 1999
Having observed lobster behavior for many years under various conditions, I have often wondered how lobsters gained their reputation for being vicious cannibals. In my experience, lobsters are social creatures that commonly share shelters both when they are young and when they mate. They commonly live in close proximity in nature and have such highly ritualized agonistic encounters that they rarely injure one another during fights.
I first witnessed evidence of lobster cannibalism when I hauled a trap that contained one live lobster along with bits and pieces of other lobsters. The live lobster was a large egg-bearing female. This and other evidence led me to conclude that much of cannibalism in lobsters is: 1) the result of large females in traps attempting to protect their broods; and 2) an artifact of being confined to a small area such as a trap.
Egg-bearing females spend many hours every day tending their broods by aerating and carefully cleaning the eggs. In addition to caring for and protecting their young, female lobsters need to be able to eat.
To successfully satisfy their maternal instincts, female lobsters need full use of their claws. Loss of use of claws interferes not only with feeding and protection, but may also lead to loss of eggs. A female that loses claws while brooding can accelerate the timing of the next molt (shed) to grow the claws back sooner and shed the eggs before they're ready to hatch.
To help protect the broodstock, and minimize losses in traps, fishermen can: