Maine's commercial fisheries value normalizes after record-breaking 2021

A Maine clam harvester.

The value of the U.S. state of Maine’s commercial fisheries is back in line with historical norms after high lobster prices resulted in a a record-breaking 2021 haul.

The total value of all Maine’s commercial landings reached USD 574 million (EUR 537 million) in 2022, a 37 percent drop from the all-time high of USD 890 million (EUR 832 million) earned in 2021. Despite the drop, the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) said that the value is in line with historical norms, as the average value of all fisheries for the period spanning 2011 to 2020 is USD 586 million (EUR 548 million).

The large decrease was primarily related to a drop in the value of the Maine lobster fishery, which earned a record-shattering USD 724.9 million (EUR 678.5 million) in 2021. In 2022, the value of the lobster fishery dropped by USD 353.6 million (EUR 330.9 million) to USD 388 million (EUR 363 million). Landings also dropped to 97,956,667 pounds, roughly 10 million pounds less than the 108,048,704 pounds landed in 2021. 

The biggest reason the lobster fishery lost so much value was a steep fall-off in average prices paid for the crustacean. In 2021, the boat price for lobster hit an all-time high average of USD 6.71 (EUR 6.28) per pound. That price dropped to USD 3.97 (EUR 3.71) per pound in 2022. 

“Maine’s lobstermen were facing tremendous uncertainty about their future last year over pending federal whale regulations, compounded by the high costs for bait and fuel,” Maine Governor Janet Mills said. “Yet they still brought to shore nearly 100 million pounds of quality Maine lobster, which reflects this industry’s resilience when confronted with a difficult and dynamic economic environment.”

Mills was referencing the longrunning fight over increased regulations to the fishery to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Fishermen were given a six-year reprieve on new regulations, a move that Maine politicians applauded.

Maine’s elver fishery, which earned USD 20.1 million (EUR 18.8 million) in 2022 – up from USD 16.6 million (EUR 15.5 million) in 2021, was Maine's second most-valuable fishery. According to the Maine DMR, the increase in the elver fishery's value was thanks to a USD 300 (EUR 280) per-pound increase in the average price for elvers to USD 2,131 (EUR 1,995) per pound, a price that has only been exceeded twice in the history of the fishery. 

Soft shell clams came in as the state’s third most-valuable fishery, earning USD 16.6 million (EUR 15.5 million) in 2022, a drop from USD 25 million (EUR 23.4 million) in 2021. Maine DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said the state is working on ways to protect the clam fishery from environmental impacts. 

“By funding new positions at DMR to address climate change impact on clams and other nearshore species, the state has taken the vital step in supporting the resilience of this and other important fisheries in the nearshore, like mussels, seaweed and worms,” he said.

Maine’s fourth most-valuable fishery in 2022 was the menhaden fishery, which reached USD 12 million (EUR 11 million). The species, which is used as lobster bait in the state, increased in value by USD 1.6 million (EUR 1.4 million).

Keliher said the state earned a “major win” in 2022 as the state’s quota for menhaden increased from 2 million pounds to more than 24 million pounds.

“That tenfold increase in state quota will provide both menhaden and lobster harvesters much-needed certainty in their ability to harvest and source bait,” he said.

The scallop fishery was the state’s fifth most-valuable fishery in 2022. Maine scallops brought in USD 8.7 million (EUR 8.1 million) last year. According to the Maine DMR, that’s one of the highest values in the history of the fishery. 

The department also highlighted increases in the state’s once-small alewife fishery, another popular source of lobster bait. Harvesters of the species caught 3.3 million pounds of alewives in 2022, an increase of 1.4 million pounds over 2021, earning USD 1.5 million (EUR 1.4 million).  

Photo courtesy of Arthur Villator/Shutterstock


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