A hue and cry over colorful crustaceans

Lobstermen: Same on palate if not on palette

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PORTLAND, Maine — When a 100-pound shipment of lobsters arrived at Bill Sarro’s seafood shop and restaurant last month, it contained a surprise — six orange crustaceans that have been said to be a 1-in-10,000,000 oddity.

“My butcher was unloading them and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, boss, they sent us cooked dead lobsters,’” said Mr. Sarro, owner of Fresh Catch Seafood in Mansfield, Mass. “He then picked one up, and it crawled up his arm.”

Reports of odd-colored lobsters used to be rare in the lobster fishing grounds of New England and Atlantic Canada. Normal lobsters are a mottled greenish-brown.

But in recent years, accounts of bright blue, orange, yellow, calico, white and even split lobsters — one color on one side, another on the other — have jumped. It’s now common to hear several stories a month of a lobsterman bringing one of the quirky crustaceans to shore.

It’s anybody’s guess why more oddities are popping up in lobster traps, said Michael Tlusty, research director at the New England Aquarium in Boston.

“Are we seeing more because the Twitter sphere is active and people get excited about colorful lobsters?” Mr. Tlusty asked. “Is it because we’re actually seeing an upswing in them? Is it just that we’re catching more lobsters, so we have the opportunity to see more?

“Right now you can make a lot of explanations, but the actual data to find them out just isn’t there.”

Lobsters come in a variety of colors because of genetic variations.

It’s been written that the odds of catching a blue lobster are 1-in-2,000,000, while orange comes in at 1-in-10,000,000. Yellow and orange-and-black calico lobsters have been pegged at 1-in-30,000,000, split-colored varieties at 1-in-50,000,000, and white — the rarest of all — at 1-in-100,000,000.

But those are merely guesses; nobody knows for sure.

Aside from their color, the lobsters are apparently normal in all other ways, said Bob Bayer, executive director of the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute. They all turn red when they’re cooked, except for the white ones since they don’t have any pigment, and diners wouldn’t notice a difference.

“There’s no difference in taste,” he said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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