July 14, 2012

Are lobstermen keeping their traps shut?

A glut in supply has led to record low prices. But if lobster fishermen are breaking the law to boost demand, they’re not saying.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

Kressbach also said he doesn't understand the woe-is-me mentality of lobstermen. Lobster fishing is cyclical. Things will turn around, he said, if not this year, then next. Those who fish know this.

"You can't call it a strike, but this conservation effort is ultimately good for the industry," Kressbach said.

Perhaps as soon as next week, experts predict, processors will start buying more. Soft-shell lobsters will have hardened a bit. Boats will flood the waters again. The catch prices likely will rise.

"While our association has no role in the marketplace, we want to make clear that this is an anomaly in a generally robust market," said McCarron, of the lobstermen's association.

Pete McAleney of Portland-based New Meadows Lobster, one of the state's largest distributors, said he hopes the high supply-low demand dynamic is short-lived.

"We'll ride it out and see what happens," he said.

Some lobstermen are in a better position to ride it out than others.

For years, Maine lobstermen have believed that their expenses were growing at an unsustainable rate. Fuel costs went up and have stayed up. Then they were required to buy new trap lines that are less likely to ensnare whales. In some cases, lobstermen invested their surplus earnings from five or six years ago into bigger boats or houses or cars. When earnings started to drop in 2008, it became harder to pay those bills.

Brunell said the frustrating part is that buyers and end retailers, such as restaurants, are still making out because they can still mark up lobsters to tourists who think anything less than $20 a pound is a good price. Steve DiMillo of DiMillo's Floating Restaurant said he sets lobster prices at the beginning of each season and doesn't change them. This year, he's doing pretty well.

"A lot of people are benefitting from these prices, but I guess if anyone's losing, it's the lobstermen," he said.

Marine Resources Commissioner Keliher said his advice to consumers is to eat while the prices are low. Many have taken advantage. Local restaurants and lobster retailers are reporting more sales of lobsters this season as prices have dropped. Roger Reed, who leases space on Commercial Street in Portland to sell lobster direct, said business has been strong all year.

Nonetheless, the economy hasn't rebounded, Kressbach cautioned, and no matter how it's marketed, lobster is still thought of as a luxury.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@mainetoday.com

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

 

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

William Ray holds a pair of soft-shell lobsters at Free Range Fish & Lobster market in Portland last week.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

A billboard shows how inexpensive lobsters are at Free Range. On average, lobstermen are getting $3.19 a pound. Soft-shell lobsters came much earlier than normal this year, driven largely by environmental factors, officials said.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

 


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