Thirty-eight Casco Bay lobstermen are working to divert more Maine lobsters from their conventional fate: a pot of boiling water followed by a bath in lemon and butter.

They hope to redirect the state’s signature seafood into the mouths of gastronomes in the form of gourmet pies, pizzas and bisques.

The lobstermen have just launched the Calendar Islands Maine Lobster Co., based on the Portland Fish Pier, teaming up with renowned chefs Jonathan King and Jim Stott, owners of Stonewall Kitchen in York.

Their venture is on the cutting edge of the Maine lobster industry’s push to become a player in the global food scene.

“We want to put Maine lobster where it isn’t,” said John Jordan of Yarmouth, a lobsterman and president of the company.

The new company reflects a shift in the way Maine’s traditional lobster fishery operates as it struggles to adapt to a changing world and a changing economy.

Last year, Maine’s 6,000 licensed lobstermen hauled in what is expected to be a record 100 million pounds of lobster. Only about 20 million pounds of it will be sold in New England. The goal is to keep the price of lobster up despite an increasing supply.

“So we have to find places to bring that harvest to get a good value,” said Dane Somers, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council.

The Calendar Islands Maine Lobster Co. has its roots in another company, Dropping Springs LLC – named for one of the many springs that bubble up on Chebeague Island. The venture was started eight years ago by nine island lobstermen looking for a way to pool their resources in order to beat the rising cost of fuel and bait and get a better price from the lobster dealer.

“A few of us were motivated by frustrations over our options to sell our lobsters,” said Jordan.

They were up against one of the intentional roadblocks of Maine’s highly regulated lobster fishery, which is set up to operate inefficiently to prevent overfishing.

In Maine, lobstermen are allowed to own only one boat each. In other fisheries, such as groundfishing, individuals may amass entire fleets.

To keep their profits up, Maine lobstermen must maximize their fishing time, spending 14 hours a day hauling traps. That leaves them little or no time to sell their product, so they have largely relegated the job to lobster dealers, who pay lobstermen at the wharf and then find retailers, restaurants and other markets.

Although most fishermen remain fiercely independent, some – 20 percent by some estimates – have formed companies and cooperatives like Dropping Springs in recent years.

Dropping Springs quickly grew to 38 members from Yarmouth, Freeport and other communities. It operates a float and a holding vessel off Chebeague, and a bait business on the Portland Fish Pier.

After the recession hit, Dropping Springs’ members decided they had to take the business a step further to survive the rock-bottom prices they were getting from dealers as suddenly cost-conscious Americans lost their appetites for the high-end catch.

“The money is made on the dock,” said Ernie Burgess of Chebeague, a company member who is in his 57th year of lobster fishing.

So Burgess, Jordan and other members formed a strategy group, tapping some of the Chebeague summer residents’ talent and business expertise, and came up with the idea of keeping control of their product from the trap to the freezer. They decided not to sell live lobsters – which presents huge logistical challenges on a global scale – and got into prepared foods instead.

“This is a salty version of farm to table,” said Jordan.

While the lobstermen knew how to catch lobsters, they didn’t know much about food. In Stonewall Kitchen’s King and Stott, they found partners who could step into that part of the business.

“Jim and I were impressed with the concept of the company mission, especially the fact that the lobstermen were owners in the company, not just supplying us lobsters,” King said.

They have developed eight gourmet Maine lobster dishes, which they introduced last month at a seafood show in San Francisco.

Last week, they launched their Internet store at www.mainelobstergourmet.com. Jordan said their products should show up on the shelves of Hannaford Supermarkets soon, and they are working on other accounts.

The line includes lobster bisque, stew, pizza, pot pie, cakes, corn chowder, macaroni and cheese, and frozen tails. The suggested retail prices range from $10.95 for 20 ounces of bisque to $19.95 for an 18.5-ounce pizza. Prices online are higher.

The lobsters, caught by the company’s 38 members and a dozen independent lobstermen, are flash-frozen by Shucks Maine Lobster, a processor in Richmond.

They are then processed by Jeanie Marshal Foods in Bangor. The entire operation is overseen by Calendar Islands.

“It is unique in its scope of vertical integration,” said Somers, of the lobster promotion council.

Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster in St. George’s Port Clyde village buys its lobsters from independent lobstermen before turning them into frozen claw packs, lobster bisque and other prepared foods that are now in development.

Hancock Gourmet Lobster Co. in Cundy’s Harbor has developed a line of gourmet prepared lobster and other seafood.

It is involved solely in the production end of the business.

Jordan considers neither company a competitor. Collectively, he said, they have more power to market Maine lobster as a recognized brand.

Somers said people outside of New England tend to eat lobster for special occasions at restaurants, and wouldn’t know what to do with a live lobster.

Offering cooked, prepared lobster that they can eat at home makes sense, he said.

Also, it is easier to ship prepared foods than live lobsters to Japan, China and other Asian markets, which the Maine industry is trying to crack.

Next month, Calendar Islands will be among a half-dozen Maine companies at the Boston International Seafood Show, the largest seafood show in North America.

“We can’t wait for our market to come to us in the summer, like the bake sale model,” said Jordan. “We are trying to move beyond that.”

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: [email protected]