After setting new value records for several years running, Maine lobstermen may see a dip in both value and catches for the 2017 season. The state Department of Marine Resources will publish its data in March.
Last year, the fishery wrapped up with an all-time high for both figures with a catch of nearly 131 million pounds of lobster valued at just over $533 million at the docks. But the statewide haul this year is expected to drop significantly — possibly below 100 million pounds, according to David Cousens, president of Maine Lobstermen’s Association.
“Up and down the coast a lot of guys are down in catch and dollars from last year,” said Cyrus Sleeper, a South Thomaston lobsterman who serves on the board of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. He added that he and others had hit their averages. “I think some guys expected to have these record years over and over again, and they’ve lived a little beyond themselves. The old guys are a little wiser to it and know the ups and downs. Everyone’s aware of it, you just never expect it to be now.”
Sleeper said rising bait prices have had lobsterman watching their bottom lines for years, and a small paycheck could hurt some this year.
“There are a few months left in the season, and it’s going to be a crucial time,” said Sleeper.
Matt Jacobson, executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, says lobstermen are often a victim of their own good press.
“When you get used to a level of revenue and volume, a year like this can be a reminder that Mother Nature drives the industry,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s going to be catastrophic. If you look at the last five years, we’re right near the middle of the bell curve. I think it’s always good to wait until March to draw conclusions.”
Jacobson says the industry is comfortable on the marketing side, taking a focused approach to increasing sales in domestic markets. Slow catches early in the season combined with the country’s Gulf Coast putting a pause on purchasing after a slew of hurricanes hindered those efforts, but only temporarily.
The industry is also wary of a Canada-European Union trade deal that nixes tariffs on Canadian lobster exports to the 28 countries in the EU, giving Maritimes lobstermen and dealers a marketing advantage over their New England counterparts. Jacobson says those European customers can be replaced, although it may take a couple years.