Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By DAVID COUSENS Special to the Press Herald
KENNEBUNK - In response to Nelson King's March 21 letter to the editor on the lobster marketing bill ("New fee will add to lobstermen's woes"
): He, like everyone, is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own set of facts!
• First, the marketing bill under consideration by the Marine Resources Committee, L.D. 486, calls for $3 million, not $4 million.
• Second, trap tags have never been used to fund the Lobster Promotion Council. There has been no 500 percent increase in the budget for the council. In fact, there has been no increase in money for the council in many years.
Its annual budget is $380,000 a year, for an industry whose value in 2012 was just shy of $340 million. That equates to 1/10th of 1 percent of the gross value, before processing, of the lobsters landed.
People who understand marketing know you must use at least 1 percent of gross revenue to effectively promote a product, whether it's milk (remember "Got Milk"?), blueberries ("Nature's anti-oxidant") or lobster. That 1 percent of $340 million is where the $3 million figure comes from.
The Maine Lobstermen's Association has been around since 1954, pushing the state and our lobstermen to manage Maine's lobster resources sustainably. That the MLA doesn't speak for everyone is obvious, but we do speak for the majority of lobstermen who take the time to get involved in this business.
Most lobstermen who attended the four public meetings held last fall about this marketing bill, and those who attended the 16 outreach meetings that the Department of Marine Resources held in January supported the proposed bill, although it will add to the price of a license.
Right now, annual lobstermen investment in promoting Maine lobster ranges from just over $30, if you fish by yourself to just over $90, if you carry up to two sternmen. Over the next three years, those fees will gradually rise, as will the cost to Maine's lobster buyers, truckers and processors.
Is anyone happy about paying more money? Of course not, but Maine lobstermen have increased annual lobster landings from 25 million pounds to 126 million pounds during the last 20 years -- a fivefold increase. Industry revenue has grown from $70 million to nearly $340 million, with no additional investment to market those lobsters. As a result, the buying public has not kept pace with what we have to sell.
We have to get more people to eat lobster, specifically Maine lobster.
The London-based Marine Stewardship Council's recent certification of Maine lobster as a sustainable fishery is a step in the right direction. That certification effort was paid for through private investment, not Maine's lobstermen.
The Canadian lobster industry is certainly taking notice of Marine Stewardship Council recognition. Last year, our neighbor to the north shipped $1 billion worth of lobster to Europe, the United States and China.
If anyone doesn't think we need to better promote Maine's iconic seafood, then I would suggest you take a trip to the International Boston Seafood Show and see what the competition is doing.
The headline of Mr. King's letter is "New fee will add to lobstermen's woes." If you take a good look at it, the woes we are facing come down to one thing: We are landing a historical amount of lobster, for which consumer demand has not increased.
With the ever-growing price of boat fuel and bait, this situation is a lose-lose proposition. We can either limit the amount of lobster we land -- which this winter's DMR meetings with lobstermen clearly showed to be a nonstarter -- or do something to boost demand for our lobsters.
I believe the majority of lobstermen who were hammered by 2012's low prices are now looking at the big picture. They understand that a modest price increase of 10 cents a pound would return $12.5 million to them and shore up the economy of hundreds of coastal communities. All for a $3 million investment. That's really not such a bad deal for lobstermen or for the state of Maine.
David Cousens of South Thomaston is president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, which is based in Kennebunk.