Maine's Department of Marine Resources announced this week it will be launching a Maine Seafood brand to promote all of the state's commercial species to a growing domestic market.

"It's a domestic campaign," said Jeff Nichols, director of communications for the department. "Initially we're focused on the Northeast. That's based on information we got from dealers and research we've done to identify where Maine seafood is being distributed and is available."

The department is using $1 million of the state's $20 million federal CARES Act seafood relief funds. The remaining $19 million is expected to be divvied up and delivered by Jan. 1 to as many as 2,700 fishermen, aquaculture producers, seafood dealers and processors, and charter boat operators who applied for funds to cover a minimum 35 percent profit loss this year as a result of the pandemic.

The department is hoping this project will help expand markets across the state's industry, including stakeholders who were not eligible for relief but who were still affected by market shutdowns.

"We're working with dealers at this point, so we understand their distribution and how they make seafood available to consumers," said Nichols. "We're going to be doing some storytelling about the industry for consumers going forward."

Over the course of the summer, representatives in the department reached out to a wide swath of industry stakeholders in the state, "from dealers to association representatives to people who have a level of expertise in Maine seafood marketing and distribution," Nichols said.

From that group, the initiative's leaders developed its advisory panel:

  • Sebastian Belle with the Maine Aquaculture Association
  • Janine Bissailon-Cary of the Monterrat Group
  • Nick Branchina with CEI
  • Monique Coombs, of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association, representing SEAMaine Market Development Subcommittee
  • Mike Danforth with Maine Shellfish
  • Leigh Hallett of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry
  • Marianne LaCroix of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative
  • Steve Lyons of the Maine Office of Tourism
  • Irene Moon with Bristol Seafood
  • John Norton from Cozy Harbor Seafood

As for now, the initiative is in Phase 1 with a supplier directory and recipes.

"We launched in time for the holidays to establish a footprint with this brand," Nichols said, noting that the runway is short, as funds are only projected to carry the program to July 2021. "We'll be having conversations about how this program can be sustained beyond July."

The program will also be working in cooperation with the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative — and with its marketing and PR firm, the Boston-based Weber Shandwick — so as not to duplicate efforts established in promoting Maine lobster, which is an established brand with global reach.

"This program is intended to build consumer awareness, appreciation and demand for Maine seafood. And we're doing that by developing a unified brand for the industry that currently doesn't exist," Nichols said.

"I really like seeing all Maine seafood promoted," said Stonington lobster Captain and Maine Rep. Genevieve McDonald. "Maine has multiple species to offer, not just lobster."

Support for the program came from the state's top executive, as well.

“With more Maine people cooking from home, we have an opportunity to support Maine’s seafood industry by promoting the premium products we produce here at home,” said Gov. Janet Mills in a statement. “This initiative will support a vital sector of our state’s economy and connect consumers with high-quality seafood produced in the U.S. at a critical time.”

"We're staying focused on making sure we stay in our lane, building consumer demand, but also looking to the future," Nichols said.

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 15 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

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