PORT CLYDE, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - Maine's lobster industry had a record catch last year. The Department of Marine Resources says more than 123-million pounds of lobster were landed on the docks. But even though the catch was 18 million pounds more than 2011, prices were way down - about $330 million - actually $3.7 million less than 2011.
Many people in the lobster business say the dramatic drop in pricesand the apparent lack of balance between supply and demand show the need for some serious changes in the industry.
Maine Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher Monday began a series of 16 scheduled meetings with fishermen along the coast to get their ideas for what should be changed. Keliher says he hopes to find ways to increase prices fishermen get for their lobsters and assure a higher quality product year round.
Quality and price were both problems last year, when a huge and unexpected early season harvest of soft-shell lobsters, known as "shedders", overwhelmed the marketplace. Price fell to below $2.00 per pounds at a number of docks. The large catch helped to offset the low price, but many fishermen say that is not a sustainable model for the lobster industry going forward.
Commissioner Keliher says he knows the idea of change is likely to be controversial with some fishermen, who typically don't want additional government regulation. But Keliher also says there are many in the industry who agree change is needed, because they say the current market situation isn't sustainable.
Fishermen say there are a variety of ideas being talked about to reduce fishing effort at critical times of the year, particularly in summer, when the low-value shedders dominate the catch .
There is also a lot of discussion about the need to expand marketing efforts, as a way to increase demand for lobsters. The Department of Marine Resources is already preparing a bill for the Legislature to significantly increase the budget for lobster marketing. Money for marketing comes from a surcharge on license for fishermen and lobster dealers. Currently, that surcharge provides the $400,000 budget for the Maine Lobster Promotion Council. The bill being considered would increase that surcharge, and increase the marketing budget to several million dollars over several years.