Despite early-season worries, Maine lobster industry experiences solid 2019

Published on
January 13, 2020

The Maine lobster industry is expected to have another year with more than 100 million pounds landed, a significant number during a year fraught with bait shortages and other challenges.

Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher gave the estimate to Maine Public’s “Maine Calling” radio show. More precise numbers are typically made available in March, during the state’s annual Fishermen’s Forum.

“He still feels pretty confident that, based on what he’s heard and the conversations that he’s had with industry, that we’re looking at somewhere on the order of a 100-million-pound year,” Maine DMR Director of Communications Jeff Nichols told SeafoodSource.

That number represents a sharp turnaround from number posted by the end of September 2019, when fishermen landings of less than 50 million pounds.    

“I think the commissioner had noted in a meeting back in early fall of 2019 that it looked like through September we were down about 40 percent year-over-year, compared to the previous year,” Nichols said. “It looks like that trend, or decline from the previous year, it looks like it got turned around somewhat with a significant increase in landings over the last few months of the year.”

At the start of 2019, the industry was facing a potentially tumultuous year, between a bait shortage, potential right whale regulations (which are still being debated) that could impact the industry, and the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China that tanked exports.

Despite those challenges, and a dismal start to the year, a late-season uptick in landings and solid prices managed to put most fishermen in a good place, according to Maine Lobstermen’s Association Executive Director Patrice McCarron.

“I don’t have a sense that anybody is worried, I don't have a sense that anybody is failing out,” McCarron told SeafoodSource. “I haven’t seen any official numbers, but as I meet with lobstermen and talk with lobstermen along the coast, everybody seems OK.”

McCarron attributes the late-season success to the savviness of the fishermen, who recognized the challenges and were more conservative than usual early in the season with their use of bait.

“Lobstermen were really paying attention, they were acutely aware of the types of pressure they would face in 2019,” she said.

Fishermen were also more conservative with how they set their gear out, and how quickly they took that gear back in, according to McCarron. The lower demand on bait allowed bait dealers to build a supply of more diverse offerings, avoiding potential shortage issues.

“I didn’t hear of any acute bait shortages,” McCarron said. All the fishermen McCarron talked to were able to secure bait and fish, she added. That, in turn, allowed fishermen to benefit when landings started increasing late season.

“I think that really went far to stretch the bait we needed, so we had the opportunity to take advantage in the fall,” McCarron said.

The 100-million-pound total is still down compared to the peak harvest of 132.6 million pounds in 2016, and the lowest harvest since 96.2 million pounds in 2010. However, that number is still much higher than historical averages, McCarron said.

“A 100-million-pound season for Maine, is an amazing lobster season for Maine,” she said.  

Photo courtesy of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative 

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