AUGUSTA — Amid a temporary lull in tensions with Canada, two of Maine’s biggest lobster processors met with the LePage administration Friday to discuss longterm solutions to the oversupply of the local crustaceans.
The oversupply, a problem for Maine lobstermen all season, steamed toward crisis last week when Canadian lobstermen in New Brunswick began protesting, and in some instances blocking, the Maine shipments north of the border for processing. Maine lobster has since flowed back into Canada after a judge ordered protesters to stop blocking access to processing facilities.
The situation has prompted Gov. Paul LePage to renew his commitment to build more processing plants in Maine. But before that happens, the administration said the state needed to ramp up demand for Maine lobsters.
Patrick Keliher, the commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources, said after the meeting that promoting the Maine lobster brand was needed if local processing plants were going to be financially viable.
“I want to stress that this is just the beginning of a fact-finding mission,” said Kehiler, who hinted that policy changes may be forthcoming to help increase demand.
Linda Bean, heiress to L.L. Bean family and a LePage supporter, was one of two of the processors who met with the governor today. She said that the state should invest in marketing efforts and work harder to make sure customers can tell the difference between Maine lobsters and those from elsewhere. She said certification would boost demand in other regions.
Bean also floated the idea of placing an additional tax on Canadian lobsters, which she said, could be sold for less because the Canadian industry receives government subsidies. Bean’s tariff proposal appears to face long odds given that the North American Free Trade Agreement stipulates that many Canadian products are duty-free. However, Bean hoped that Maine’s congressional delegation would consider advancing the tariff idea.
LePage declined to address reporters after the confab, which was held inside the governor’s cabinet room. However, the governor in his weekly radio address will say Saturday that the Canadian situation “is all about money.”
The administration lifted its typical embargo of the Saturday address. In it, the governor plans to highlight Maine’s dependence on Canadian processors, which take up to 70 percent of the local catch.
“Processors are paying only a fraction of the true cost due to the abundance of lobster and lack of processing capacity here in Maine,” the address reads.
The state currently has three major processors. LePage said there isn’t more because of the state’s “high cost of doing business,” which he said, is due to the state’s high energy prices and environmental regulations.
“Getting our lobsters delivered and processed in Canada helps in the short-term, but Maine needs a permanent solution,” he says in the address. “We need more processing capacity. After all, the Maine lobster is world renown. We must be in a position to add value to our product instead of Canada gaining all the added value.”
Meanwhile, Keliher reported that the 10-day injunction in Canada appeared to be working. He said he hoped tensions would subside as New Brunswick fishermen resume fishing next week.
Keliher said the injunction came just in time. Another two days, he said, and the Maine catch could have been sitting on docks to rot.