Lobster prices have recovered very little from their historic lows last year, squeezing profits for fishermen at the shellfish capital in Maine. The demand for local lobster is also booming because of a recent increase in tourism.
That’s prompted community leaders to push an idea that may seem radical to many Down Easters-making Maine less dependent on a single species from the sea. They’re creating incentives for fishermen to catch a variety of high-quality marine food, at a fair price for the long haul.
Their collective efforts include the removal of Maine river dams to allow fish-including the endangered Atlantic salmon-to return to historic spawning grounds. Call it a lesson in fish diversification in eastern Maine, where lobster dominates the ecosystem.
“Long term, that’s not a stable situation to have very few, other species and so much lobster,” said Robin Alden , a longtime fisheries management expert and former Maine commissioner of marine resources.
There’s a reason why they call this place the capital of lobster in the world.
Lobstermen from Maine to Canada have again been battling excess supply this summer. Lobster off the boat is selling for as low as $2.20 a pound. That’s up slightly from last summer, when lobster prices tumbled under $2 a pound in some regions.
Lobstermen were anticipating higher prices this summer, when stored lobster inventory began to emerge. “There’s a back load of product in this market,” said Carla Guenther, a fisheries science advisor for the Penobscot East Resource Center. The nonprofit, based in Stonington, Maine, supports fishing communities in eastern Maine.
Eight years ago, lobster boat prices averaged $4.63 a pound. Those prices have since tumbled nearly 50 percent, according to Maine fisheries landing data.
While Maine’s Department of Marine Resources tracks boat prices for a variety of fish including lobster, there’s no central database of real-time supply figures. That’s coveted, market-driving information-much like data on the physical, spot oil markets.
“The stored supply (of lobster) is still high,” said Guenther, adding inventory caught last fall may finally be showing up in the market. Lobsters are harvested year-round in Maine, although most are caught between late June and late December, when lobsters are most active.
But supply details emerging now-in the tail of August-are little comfort for independent lobstermen, who made financial plans for the year back in April, around tax season. Many had planned-and hoped-for lower supplies and higher prices that have not materialized. It costs a lobsterman around $500 just to leave the dock for one trip, including fuel costs.