COMMERCIAL FISHERIES

Size and value of 2017 lobster catch drop

After a string of record breaking harvests, the Maine lobster industry saw both its value and volume fall sharply in 2017. Landings declined 16 percent, from 130.8 million pounds in 2016 to 111 million pounds in 2017, and the boat value of the statewide catch fell 18.6 percent, from $533 million in 2016 to $434 million in 2017, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, which released its annual catch data at the Maine Fisherman’s Forum in Rockport today. That translates into 20 million pounds less of lobster, and $99.3 million to be split among the state’s lobster fleet. With a season shortened by a late spring molt and bad winter weather, the numbers were unwelcome but not unexpected, said DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher. The decline in value was harder to explain. When the amount of product hitting the market drops, price usually spikes, but the average boat price of lobster fell from $4.08 per pound in 2016 to $3.91 per pound in 2017. He said demand for Maine lobsters remains high, but a spate of hurricanes in big restaurant markets and trade deals that give Canadian lobster dealers a price advantage added up. Read the story.

Marine industries to benefit from funding boost

A consortium of Maine businesses and institutions is investing more than $14 million to grow jobs in the state’s marine industry. The Alliance for Maine’s Marine Economy is investing $7 million in voter-approved bonds along with more than $7 million more from its own members, according to a statement from the University of Maine, which oversees the group. The university said the investments are designed to “support and diversify traditional fisheries, aquaculture and other marine-dependent industries.” Read the story.

REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION

Unknown buyer snatching up Bayside properties

A mystery developer is buying up properties in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood as part of an ambitious, long-term plan to rebrand and remake an area that has long been home to a network of social service agencies. Recent purchases near the Preble Street day shelter and soup kitchen generated buzz online last week after it became known that the buyer is a company named T International Realty – the same name used by the family of President Trump for several companies registered in other states. Speculation about the Trump family’s possible interest in Bayside real estate was welcomed by Josh Soley, who is listed as an authorized agent for the Maine-based limited liability company. He would neither confirm nor deny an affiliation with the Trumps when questioned about the deal Tuesday and Wednesday. The Maine-based T International Realty lists a Portland address and only Soley and his brother, Daniel Soley, as authorized agents. Josh Soley’s father, David Soley, an attorney representing T International Realty, confirmed in an email that the group has “no affiliation whatsoever with The Trump Organization or its affiliates.” Read the story.

LABOR

Talks to resume in Hannaford labor dispute

Union officials and management of a South Portland Hannaford distribution center have halted contract negotiations after two days and will resume talks next week. Two weeks ago, 246 workers represented by UFCW Local 1445 rejected a final contract offer from Delhaize America Distribution, the operator of the Hemco Road warehouse, and authorized a strike but did not walk off the job. A week ago, distribution center workers staged a 24-hour strike as a show of force ahead of a Monday mediation session. The distribution center supplies 103 Hannaford locations in New England, including 63 stores in Maine. Read the story.

TRANSPORTATION

Jetport sets passenger record

The number of passengers flying through Maine’s largest airports soared to the highest point on record in 2017 as Maine attracted a historic number of tourists and airlines expanded options for locals. More than 1.8 million passengers came through Portland International Jetport last year, a 4 percent increase, or about 75,000 passengers more than 2016, the previous record. Bangor International Airport recorded 546,264 passengers in 2017, blowing past its annual goal. A strong summer tourism season and expanded travel options for local passengers are credited for the record-breaking year, said the Portland airport’s assistant director, Zach Sundquist. Airlines such as American have added new nonstop locations and daily flights from Portland in recent years and other operators, such as Elite Airways, have introduced flights to Florida and other states. Added capacity has helped during the busy summer tourism season, which now spills into September and October. Read the story.

Downeaster to extend coastal service in pilot program

Rail authorities have approved a pilot program for this summer that would extend Amtrak service to Bath, Wiscasset, Newcastle and Rockland for three weekends. The Bangor Daily News reports that the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority board of directors voted Monday to approve the seasonal extension. Amtrak’s Downeaster now runs between Brunswick and Boston. The pilot program originally was scheduled to run for 10 weeks this summer, but the board voted to scale back the program because of funding problems. Read the story.

ENERGY

Regulators to examine some soaring CMP bills

Maine utility regulators decided Tuesday to start an inquiry into what’s behind an apparent spike in electricity bills for some Central Maine Power customers. The Public Utilities Commission staff will pull together data that includes electricity meters’ performance, billing system accuracy and CMP’s response to customers, the commissioners decided during deliberations. If the results warrant, the agency will open a formal investigation. No timeline was set for either process. While the PUC is collecting data, the agency is asking CMP customers to first contact the utility to try to work out the trouble. Only if they can’t get a resolution should they contact the PUC’s Consumer Assistance Division at (800) 452-4699 or online at: www.maine.gov/mpuc/consumer. The inquiry comes roughly two months after customers began contacting the PUC, the Public Advocate’s Office and media outlets to complain about inexplicably high monthly bills. In some instances, customers were reporting bills four times higher than for the same period last year. Read the story.

GENERAL BUSINESS

Westbrook approves extension of tax breaks for Idexx

The Westbrook City Council has voted to extend and expand a tax break for the veterinary technology firm Idexx Laboratories Inc. Idexx has received a rebate on its property taxes since 2006, when Westbrook approved a tax increment financing district for the company’s corporate headquarters. Over the last decade, Idexx has paid a total of more than $8 million in property taxes to the city, and the company has gotten back nearly $600,000, roughly 7.5 percent. In that time, Idexx has also doubled the number of employees in Westbrook. The company reported revenue of $1.97 billion in 2017, an 11 percent increase over the previous year. Now Idexx is planning a 135,000-square-foot expansion of its global headquarters in Westbrook. On Monday night, the City Council unanimously agreed to add 10 years to the life of the TIF district and include the new office space. If the expansion is built, the city’s projections show Idexx could get nearly $1 million in property taxes back every year until 2037. Read the story.

Tourism agency wins two marketing awards

Maine has won two international awards for its tourism marketing campaigns. The Maine Office of Tourism was recognized for excellence in tourism marketing by the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International with the organization’s Adrian Awards at a ceremony in New York City on Feb 20. Winners were chosen out of a field of 1,300 entries. The office won a platinum award for advertising for a partnership with L.L. Bean that brought six young adults to Maine for the first time, outfitted them with gear and documented their experiences outdoors with an interactive web package called Chasing the Sun. The state agency also won a silver public relations award for its Marsden Hartley’s Maine campaign. The Office of Tourism hosted the opening night of an exhibition of paintings by Hartley, a Lewiston native, at the Met Breuer Museum in New York City. Read the story.