The Maine Lobstermen’s Association has asked the U.S. Department of Justice for relief from a 56-year-old restriction that limits the trade group’s ability to discuss management of the fishery.

The association, which represents 1,200 commercial lobstermen, filed a request Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland, seeking to terminate a consent decree issued in 1958 after a price-fixing judgment against the organization and its leader.

The order prevents the trade group from discussing any issues that affect the supply of lobsters. It is obsolete and no longer needed, the request says, because the association does not do any lobster fishing, and federal antitrust laws prohibiting price fixing have been enacted since then.

“The decree itself has language that is more restrictive than the antitrust laws are themselves,” said Mary Anne Mason, an attorney with the Washington, D.C., law firm Crowell & Moring LLP, which represents the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

The request says the decree “may be impeding the MLA’s legitimate, lawful advocacy and educational efforts related to fisheries management regulations.”

Termination of the order would give the group latitude to participate in the formation of a Maine fishery management plan and discuss supply issues that could help the industry prosper, said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the group.


“We’re working with lobstermen on what we should do to stabilize the industry, and ideas on how to improve profitability,” said McCarron. “We don’t want anything to inhibit our ability to do that. Right now the MLA would be hard-pressed to champion those issues without worrying about starting to step on the boundaries of the consent decree.”

Lobstermen are grappling with depressed prices triggered by record catches. Last year, 125.9 million pounds of lobster, valued at $364.5 million, was harvested in the state, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources. Though that was down slightly from the 127 million pounds harvested in 2012, harvests have rebounded and prices have dropped.

The price per pound averaged $2.89 in 2013, up from $2.69 in 2012 but down from as much as $4.63 a pound in 2005.

McCarron said the industry is heading into a “much more stable period.”

“Prices are definitely improving,” she said. “We’re seeing indicators that things are lining up much more positively than in previous years.”

The industry also is hopeful that the positive trends could be buoyed by management and marketing initiatives that are underway. In June 2013, legislation was passed to authorize the creation of a statewide fishery management plan. The fishery now is managed by the federal Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.


The Maine Fisheries Management Plan is on the agenda for the July 16 meeting of the Lobster Advisory Council. The FMP will include components like management goals, stock status, current management measures, recommendations to achieve goals, and research needs. Nichols said the FMP is a guidance document; it will not have the rule of law. There will be ongoing opportunity for industry input into the FMP, he said.

“As we look at the profitability of the industry and how the management systems impact the economics of the fishery, we need to be having those conversations,” McCarron said.

Another effort that could bolster the industry is the Lobster Marketing Collaborative, launched in October to provide broader promotion for the industry.

The collaborative has a $750,000 marketing budget, funded by a surcharge on licenses issued to lobstermen, processors and dealers. It is now working with the Culinary Industry of America to create an online education site for chefs, restaurant owners, wholesalers and consumers that will go live in the fall, said Marianne La Croix, acting executive director of the organization.

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