ROCKLAND, Maine — Low prices, lack of processing facilities, and the risk of losing the family tradition of lobstering were among the topics discussed at length Tuesday afternoon as harvesters met with the state's marine resources commissioner.
"Let fishing families be fishing families," said longtime lobsterman Richard Alley of Addison.
He said the state should allow lobstermen, when they retire, to transfer their quota of lobster tags to their children.
Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, said he understood the sentiment but that each time such a law has been proposed, it has been determined to be unconstitutional since the ability to harvest public resources can't be passed down in that way.
About 55 people attended the first of a series of four meetings that Keliher plans to have along the coast to hear from lobstermen about the state of their industry. The session was held at Oceanside High School East in Rockland.
The issue of low prices was a dominant theme as the commissioner acknowledged there has been an erosion of prices since 2008. Over the same time period, the catch has doubled to 124 million pounds last year, resulting in supply outpacing demand.
The Maritime Provinces of Canada have an inventory of 20 million pounds of live lobsters, a huge amount, the commissioner said.
David Cousens, president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, said harvesters cannot withstand continued low prices for their hard-shell lobsters. He said the state needs to work with Canada on dealing with supply-and-demand issues.
"Right now, we're both losing," he said.
Keliher said the state has made increasing lobster processing capacity as a top priority to deal with the supply and demand problem. There has been progress on that matter, he said, but there are still challenges facing those who want to open processing plants. Those challenges include the high cost of energy and the ability to find workers.
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