Maine lobstermen landed 130 million pounds in 2016

Maine fishermen landed more than 130 million pounds of lobster in 2016, valued at $533.1 million before paying out bonuses, the most ever landed at the highest value ever recorded. The value of the fishery jumped by more than $30 million since 2016 and made lobster the most valuable, and fastest growing industry, of all of the state’s commercial fisheries, which topped $700 million last year. After the state’s 19 lobster co-ops paid their bonus, the overall value of all Maine lobster reached $547.2 million, according to the state. The catch commanded a price per pound of $4.07. Read the story.


Children’s Museum moving to Thompson’s Point

The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine is moving from downtown Portland. The museum has optioned a 1-acre site at Thompson’s Point and will build a three-story museum that doubles its current space. Construction will begin in 2018 and the museum is expected to move in by 2020. The museum has been in a historic 19th-century building on Free Street since 1993. Suzanne Olson, the museum’s executive director, announced the plans this week, saying in a news release that “the time is right to relocate to a new, purpose-built space with more room for our educational programs, interactive exhibits and theater performances.” She declined to discuss the cost and other aspects of the project in more detail. Read the story.


Four groups in the running for Portland pro hockey franchise

Four groups are interested in returning professional hockey to Portland, and Cross Insurance Arena trustees are meeting next week to review their proposals. Mitchell Berkowitz, chair of the arena’s board of trustees, said Wednesday that the board’s Strategic Development Committee will meet in executive session Monday to review “what we believe are (four) reasonable proposals” and will make a recommendation at the board’s next full meeting on March 8. All four interested parties are believed to be proposing bringing an ECHL franchise to Portland. Any such approval by the league would require a tentative lease agreement with a suitable arena. The ECHL, which began in 1988 as the East Coast Hockey League with five teams in four states, has expanded to 27 teams in 21 states and one Canadian province. Portland has been without pro hockey since the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates were sold last May and relocated to Springfield, Massachusetts. Read the story.

TOURISM Airbnb agrees to remit lodging tax for hosts

An agreement between Maine and the home-sharing website Airbnb will ensure that the company is collecting lodging tax from customers who use the site to rent properties in the state. The company announced Tuesday a voluntary collection agreement with the state that allows it to automatically collect and remit lodging tax on behalf of its hosts beginning April 1. Last year, 3,700 active hosts earned $26 million and hosted 174,000 visitors in Maine, the company said. It’s unclear how much of those earnings were subject to the state’s 9 percent lodging tax because of complicated exceptions allowed under the tax code, and because Airbnb did not automatically collect the tax from guests. The responsibility for assessing the tax normally falls to property owners that rent through Airbnb. If all the tax were collected last year, it would have added about $2.3 million to the state’s coffers. A typical Airbnb host made $5,900 in 2016, the company said. Read the story.


PUC solar decision prompts opposition

Maine’s largest environmental organization pledged Wednesday to “pursue every opportunity” to reverse controversial solar energy rules adopted by the state Public Utilities Commission. In late-January, the PUC approved new rules changing “net metering” policies that provide homeowners with credits on their electricity bills for excess solar energy they feed back into the grid. Under the new rules, which were finalized Wednesday, homeowners who already have solar panels can continue to receive credit at the full retail rate for the power they produce for 15 years. Those who install solar energy systems in 2018 or later would see the credits gradually reduced over time. The PUC’s changes were strongly criticized by installation companies and environmental groups, as well as by Gov. Paul LePage, a critic of the state’s renewable energy policies. On Wednesday, the Natural Resources Council of Maine denounced the three-member PUC for adopting “some of the most extreme anti-solar elements in the nation.” The Conservation Law Foundation also expressed its disapproval of the new rules. Read the story.

Court order preserves former mill for potential biorefinery

A company that hopes to build a biofuel refinery on the site of a former paper mill in East Millinocket has obtained a temporary restraining order barring the owner from selling to other parties and also limiting ongoing demolition at the site. The order, granted by U.S. District Judge Jon D. Levy in Portland, alleges that North American Recovery Management, a Florida company that bought the mill after efforts to keep it operating as a paper mill fell apart, is ignoring an agreement to sell the property to EMEP, the company that wants to use woody biomass to create fuel. According to the order, North American Recovery is preparing to accept new offers on the property while continuing demolition work at the site. EMEP alleges that North American Recovery is ignoring the binding letter of agreement to sell the property to the proposed refinery developers. The order also says the demolition work endangers some of the buildings on the property that EMEP wants to use in its refinery project, which could supply dozens of direct jobs in the area and perhaps hundreds of indirect and construction jobs. Read the story.


State warns of ‘CEO fraud’ email scams

Maine companies are being hit with a type of email scam often referred to as “CEO fraud,” the state Bureau of Financial Institutions said. CEO fraud scams seek to obtain a wire transfer of money from an employee in the finance or accounts payable office of a business, the bureau said Wednesday in a news release. This is done by sending an email to the employee, or a series of messages, posing as a senior executive of the company. National reports indicate that the scams, also known as business email compromise scams, have become more convincing and more difficult to detect as fraudulent, the release said. Additionally, some scammers are sending multiple messages over time to make sure they have the trust of their targets before asking for the wire transfer. Read the story.

ImmuCell secures additional financing for new plant

Portland-based ImmuCell Corp. has secured an additional $2 million in bank financing to complete the construction of its $20 million production facility for nisin, the active ingredient in a new animal health product for which it is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. Completing the facility is a required step for obtaining FDA approval. ImmuCell develops, manufactures and sells products designed to improve health and productivity in the dairy and beef industries. In the first quarter of 2016, the company entered into an agreement with TD Bank to secure financing of $4.5 million to help fund the facility’s construction. On Wednesday, the amount of available financing was increased to $6.5 million, ImmuCell said in a news release. Read the story.

Portland improves its credit rating

A leading credit rating agency has elevated its quality rating of bonds issued by Portland, a reflection of confidence in the city’s financial management and policies, as well as an improved budget performance. A higher credit rating helps a municipality borrow money by issuing bonds because investors can be assured the interest will be paid and the risk of defaulting is low. The city said in the news release that Standard & Poor’s Global Ratings has raised its rating of Portland’s general obligation debt up from “AA” to “AA+.” That puts its rating on par with U.S. government bonds. Meanwhile, Moody’s Investor Services also affirmed the city’s Aa1 rating through that agency. Read the story.