When Jack Mosher would visit his fraternity brother John Brier in Panama, he’d notice how they couldn’t get Maine lobster for dinner. What was available was the spiny lobster, a warm-water species without claws.
“As a seafood-loving person – a Maine boy – it’s a very poor substitute,” said Mosher, who lives in Waterville.
The two are now planning to export Maine lobster products to Panama and other parts of Latin America later this year, when a free-trade agreement removes tariffs on U.S. exports.
They started a company, Maine Lobster, in Panama City and secured a supply agreement with Atwood Lobster Co. in Spruce Head. The Illinois-based Mazzetta Co. bought the Maine producer last year.
The pair met at the University of Maine. Mosher, 47, works as a full-time officer in the Army National Guard and organizes running events. Brier, 45, heads TinBu, a Florida-based website technology company. Brier was the founder of the now-defunct Broadcast America, which had been the world’s largest Internet broadcaster.
Panama ratified the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement in 2007, but Congress only passed it in October. When Brier and Mosher determined that crustaceans were covered by the agreement, they sensed a business opportunity.
“We think Maine lobster is going to do very well here. They do have a lobster product in the region. It just doesn’t compare in terms of flavors,” said Brier, who spends summers in Oakland. “To me, it tastes like a watered-down shrimp.”
According to the federal government, Panama’s economy is among the fastest-growing in Latin America. It grew 6.2 percent in 2010 and is expected to expand with similar annual growth through 2015.
Mosher and Brier consider Panama the gateway to Columbia, Costa Rica and Brazil. Their potential distributors reach into those countries as well.
Dane Somers, executive director of the Maine Lobster Council, said that there are many new market opportunities for Maine lobster but that Latin America hasn’t been explored much.
The fastest growth for the industry — which harvested some 100 million pounds last year — is in the export market, he said. China imported virtually no Maine lobster four years ago, but the rate at which it imports lobsters has been more than doubling each year, he said.
Mosher and Brier are now focused on establishing relationships with distributors and supermarket companies, and their goal is to start imports in the third quarter of this year. They hope to make the crustaceans, starting with frozen ones, available through restaurants, hotels, stores and membership clubs.
At this point, they don’t know how much product they’ll bring into the region. But Brier said they hope the value will top seven figures in the first year of business.
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: