Maine lobster sets records, but who gets paid?

On Friday, March 3, the Maine Department of Marine Resources announced record value and volume for the state’s lobster industry in 2016. Lobster contributed more than three quarters of the state’s $700 million in commercial fishing value at $533 million and a record haul of 130 million pounds.

“The historic landings reflect the hard work of our harvesters to build and sustain this fishery,” said DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher. “The exceptional value is the result of growing demand by consumers who appreciate both the quality of Maine lobster and the long-standing commitment to sustainable harvesting practices that characterize this fishery.”

Though the average price per pound dropped slightly by 2 cents, going from $4.09 to $4.07, the increase in landings more than made up the difference to bring the total landings value up by more than $30 million.

Lobstermen were glad to get $4 a pound, compared to the 2012 lows of roughly $2.50 when an early spring shed led to a glut in the market.

In a response to that glut, which caught lobstermen and dealers flat-footed, the state’s industry leaders have since improved processing infrastructure in the state — instead of sending the majority of live product across the border to Canadian processors — and marketed lobster to the growing middle class in China.

The efforts are paying off, but many of the state’s lobstermen say middlemen are making the biggest gains.

In addition, last year’s second most valuable fishery in the state was also the preferred choice for lobster bait — Atlantic herring. Despite an 11 percent decline in landings, the value skyrocketed by $5 million to about $19 million.

That meant that while Maine lobstermen were enjoying a steady dock price for their catch, they were paying considerably more for bait — from an average of 15 cents a pound in 2015 to 25 cents in 2016, a 70 percent jump.

“Higher bait prices kept our profits down, and we did not have record prices, either,” says Galen Plummer of Sullivan, Maine.

About the author

Jessica Hathaway

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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