When fisherman Robert Maloney of Cushing brought in his last shrimp trawl of the 2012 season Feb. 17, he did not expect to find the 27-pound crustacean that had gotten caught in the grate that is designed to keep fish and lobsters out of his net.

“I’m mainly a lobsterman,” said Maloney in a Feb. 23 phone interview. “That’s why it was kind of neat. It wouldn’t even fit in one of my lobster traps.” When Maloney saw that he had caught a very large lobster, he brought it to Sgt. Rene Cloutier of Maine Marine Patrol.

“He thought the aquarium would be interested in having it,” said Cloutier.

Department of Marine Resources biologist Carl Wilson said Feb. 23 that the healthy male lobster Cloutier brought to the Maine State Aquarium in West Boothbay Harbor is “in great condition. There’s no evidence of shell disease. It looks like it’s had a pretty good life to date.”

Measuring that life is no easy task, said Wilson. Because lobsters must shed their shells in order to grow, the hard body parts that scientists use to measure growth are discarded on a regular basis.

Wilson said the big-clawed male, which is the largest lobster the DMR lab has ever seen, is probably between 40 and 60 years old. Maloney thought it might be even older, because lobsters may not shed every year as they get on in age.

The record for Homarus americanus, the American lobster, is a 48-pound specimen caught in New Brunswick. The Maine State Aquarium’s tanks are not big enough to comfortably house the one Maloney brought to shore last week.

“No matter how good of a home you give them, being in an aquarium or a tank is stressful,” said Wilson. “I’m not sure we could do right by this lobster.”

Maloney said he would not be tempted to bring a lobster of this size home to the cookpot, even if it were legal to do so.

“I think they get pretty rubbery when they get that old,” he said. He was more interested in finding out what scientists could learn from his unexpected catch. “I wanted someone to examine it.”

Now that the shrimp season is done, Maloney said he is preparing to spend the summer lobstering.

“Hopefully I can catch lots of legal lobsters,” he said. In Maine, laws to protect the breeding stock dictate that the largest lobster that can be legally harvested is between 3 and 4 pounds. Maloney’s oversized catch was returned to the sea Feb. 23.

The VillageSoup Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by email at sauciello@villagesoup.com.