ROCKLAND — Four companies have expressed interest in opening or expanding lobster-processing plants in the state, Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher told lobstermen, processors and dealers Tuesday.

“Processing capacity remains a very high priority for the state,” Keliher said at the first of four meetings to be held along Maine’s coast this month. “We don’t have enough volume in processing in the state of Maine yet.”

Keliher said companies from Maine and other states have contacted the Department of Marine Resources, but he did not identify the companies.

The biggest difficultly in expanding processing capacity in Maine is the lack of labor, said Linda Bean, who owns restaurants and Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster processing plant in Rockland.

“The big problem here in the midcoast is labor in the plants,” said Bean, who attended the meeting along with about 40 others from the industry. “We are not even processing to capacity. We would like to have two shifts, but we can’t get the labor. We can’t seem to attract people when they can stay home and collect welfare.”

During the 2½-hour meeting, Keliher discussed the lobster harvest, which appears to be progressing more normally this year than last year, when early shedding produced a glut of soft-shell lobsters and a drop in prices.

He raised concerns about the opening of Canada’s next lobstering season in the Northumberland Strait, on Aug. 9. If that coincides with a high volume of lobsters in Maine, supply could outpace demand, Keliher said.

Keliher also said Canadians may be holding as much as 20 million pounds of live lobster that has not hit the market yet. That amount of lobster coming onto the market could disrupt pricing.

“It’s concerning if it’s truly there,” Keliher said.

He said the information about Canada holding lobster in inventory came from a source in that country that he would not name.

Among other issues discussed was a new marketing program for the state’s lobster industry, the difficulties caused by invasive green crabs along the coast, and problems with breakage in the lobster tags supplied by a new vendor.

Keliher said the vendor, Cambridge Security Seals, has been working with the state to change the materials in the license tags and replace those that have broken.

The other lobster-industry meetings will be held on Thursday in Machias, on July 16 in Ellsworth and on July 17 in Scarborough.

 

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at jhall@pressherald.com