The Committee on Marine Resources on Monday tabled action on a bill to reorganize a council charged with promoting the state lobster industry until disagreements over how to pay for the council’s work can be resolved.

The bill would increase the amount spent to promote and market Maine lobster to $3 million a year by its third year. The existing Lobster Promotion Council, created by the Legislature in 1991, has a budget of about $350,000.

Committee members still expect to send the bill to the full Legislature this session.

The measure calls for the council budget to be increased to $1 million the first year, $2 million the second and $3 million the third. At that point, the council’s work would be evaluated to see whether the additional marketing has raised prices and demand.

“If it doesn’t work, we’ll all come in here and pull the plug,” said Patrice McCarron, president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association in Kennebunk, which has been instrumental in developing the proposal. The additional money would be raised through surcharges over and above license fees charged annually to lobstermen, dealers, wholesalers, processors and shippers.

The bill would not allocate state funding for the council’s budget increase, and lawmakers have been struggling over a formula for how much of the cost each segment of the industry should pay.

Committee members on Monday asked Department of Marine Resources officials to come up with proposed formulas.

The council is charged with creating new markets, particularly in China and Japan, establishing a brand for Maine lobster and raising prices at the pier, McCarron said.

Under the original bill, lobstermen would pay 75 percent of the funding increase for the council. Lobstermen and committee members raised concerns during last month’s hearing on the bill over whether lobstermen would be paying too much.

But lawmakers and advocates for the industry have said the council must have sufficient funds to accomplish its goals.

A budget of $3 million is in line with marketing budgets for other commodities, said John Sauve, president of Food and Wellness Group of Portland, who worked for a number of years with blueberry growers from Maine and Canada. Growers paid 1 percent of total sales on blueberries to market their product, he said. A similar allocation for lobster should be viewed as an investment in the fishery.

“We’re in the right ballpark,” Suave said.

“I’m inclined to feel that 50/50 (split between lobstermen and other industry segments) will be the place we’ll find the most agreement,” said Sen. Christopher K. Johnson, D-Lincoln, during Monday’s work session.

The 75/25 percent split would raise fees for lobstermen by $93.25 to $750 per year in the first year while the cost to dealers and processors would increase by $750 to $1,000.

By the third year, the surcharge for lobstermen would range from $243.25 to $1,950, depending on the type of license. For dealers and processors, the surcharge would range from $1,950 to $2,600, according to the bill.

A 50/50 split, largely supported by committee members at Monday’s committee meeting, would have lobstermen paying an additional $165 to $1,200 in the third year.

The cost to dealers and processors would increase by $3,950 to $5,000.

Some committee members said Monday they were still uncertain about how to divide the surcharges.

 

Staff Writer North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

ncairn@mainetoday.com