Maine fishermen hauled in a record-breaking $616.5 million harvest in 2015, despite hitting a five-year low in volume of the catch.
The total value of commercial landings in 2015 was up 4.4 percent from 2014, while the total live weight of 276.5 million pounds was down 10.6 percent, according to figures released Thursday by the state Maine Department of Marine Resources. Lobster landings dominated in 2015, accounting for 80.4 percent of the catch’s total value, up from 77.6 percent in 2014.
Maine’s lobster fishery experienced the largest year-over-year increase in value of any species. The overall value jumped by more than $37 million and the average price paid to lobstermen increased by more than 10 percent, from $3.70 per pound in 2014 to $4.09 in 2015.
The overall landed value of Maine’s lobster fishery was a record $495.4 million, up from $458.4 million in 2014. The total live weight of lobster landings in 2015 was 121.1 million pounds, down 2.4 percent from the previous year.
The $495.4 million figure doesn’t include a bonus that the department started tabulating in 2013. Eleven of Maine’s 19 lobster co-ops reported receiving a total of $15.2 million in bonuses on top of the market rate in 2015, up from $7.6 million in 2014. Including the bonus, Maine’s lobster fishery in 2015 was valued at $510.7 million.
It was the fourth consecutive year in which Maine lobster harvesters landed over 120 million pounds, the department said.
“Maine’s lobster fishery continues to be a major engine for our coastal economy,” Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said in a statement. “This past year saw a continuation of steady and historic lobster landings throughout the season. The increase in value reflects growing demand for Maine lobster.”
Keliher indicated that there is a risk associated with so much of the industry’s revenue coming from a single species.
“It shows that we all must be working hard to build and sustain our commercial fisheries and to create more diverse opportunity, be it with traditional commercial fisheries or (by) expanding the role of aquaculture,” he said. “This work is critical to ensure we can adapt to changes in landings and value in future years.”
Maine’s softshell clam industry retained its second-place standing in overall value at $22.5 million, a record for the fishery. The jump in value came on the strength of a price increase of 47 cents a pound compared with 2014. At $2.46 a pound, 2015 landings netted harvesters a 23 percent increase in value over 2014 despite a drop in landings of 1 million pounds.
Atlantic herring landings had a total value of $13.5 million in 2015, the third-highest for any species. That figure was down 17 percent from $16.2 million the previous year. Volume totaled 86.4 million pounds, also down 17 percent from 103.5 million pounds in 2014. The price per pound remained flat at about 16 cents.
At $2,172 per pound, Maine’s elver fishery was by far the most lucrative of the state’s commercial fisheries on a per-pound basis. The price increased by 148 percent from an anomalous low of $875 a pound in 2014. Still, landings were well below the state quota because of a cold, dry spring that slowed elver migration and made harvesting difficult. Volume decreased by 46 percent from 2014 to 5,259 pounds in 2015.
Still, the overall value of elver landings increased by nearly 35 percent to $11.4 million, making the elver fishery Maine’s fourth-most-valuable fishery behind herring.
Department officials said they consider 2015 a continuation of the successful rebuilding effort for Maine’s scallop fishery despite a decline in value and meat pounds landed.
“We expected 2015 to be lean in terms of landings,” Keliher said. “But considering that Maine scallop harvesters landed more than 10 times the amount harvested in 2005, this fishery is on the right track.”