April 14, 2013

Warm ocean waters worry Maine lobstermen, industry

By CLARKE CANFIELD, The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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In this May 2012 file photo, Scott Beede returns an undersized lobster while checking traps in Mount Desert, Maine. Ocean temperatures are warmer-than-usual again in the Gulf of Maine, creating worries among lobstermen that there could be a repeat of last summer's early harvest that created a glut on the market and havoc within the industry.

AP

This year, some lobstermen have already been bringing in small numbers of soft-shell lobsters from waters farther offshore. And they're getting split prices for their catch, with the soft-shell lobsters selling for less than the hard-shell variety.

David Johnson, from Long Island in Casco Bay, has been catching some shedders in traps 250 to 450 feet deep, 6 miles offshore.

"Years ago you never saw that," Johnson said by phone while pulling traps one day last week. "Last year was the first year we saw that."

Still, it's hard to say what the coming months will bring and just how strong the early harvest will be, fishermen and scientists agree. Air temperature, rainfall and sunshine all play a factor in how warm the waters are.

Even if there is an early deluge of lobsters like last year, lobstermen and dealers are better prepared to handle it, said Walter Day, who's been fishing for more than 50 years on Vinalhaven, an island with lobster-rich waters 15 miles off Maine's mid-coast.

Dealers can more easily handle an early influx of product, he said, because there's no large inventory of live lobsters in Canada and no frozen lobster product inventory to speak of. Canadian lobster processors — half or more of Maine's harvest is sent to Canada for processing - are also prepared to open early to handle the catch, he said.

Day, who has been pulling traps since he was 10, said no two lobster-fishing seasons are alike: "As I always say, call next January and we can tell you more about this season."

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