The head of the state lobster marketing board is stepping down.

Matt Jacobson, a former Republican candidate for governor, was hired as the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative’s first executive director in 2014. During his tenure, the board focused its time and $2.2 million-a-year marketing budget rebranding Maine’s signature soft-shell lobster as a seasonal, sustainable “new shell” lobster delicacy among trendsetting American chefs. His resignation becomes effective on Feb. 25.

“On behalf of the entire board, we want to thank Matt for his dedicated service,” Frank Gotwals, a Stonington lobsterman who chairs the collaborative board, said in a statement announcing the resignation. “Maine’s lobster industry is not only an economic powerhouse that sustains so many local fishermen and families, but also a core piece of our state’s identity. We offer him our sincerest congratulations as he takes the next step in his career.”

The board will begin its search for Jacobson’s replacement immediately, Gotwals said.

Jacobson could not be reached Monday afternoon for comment on his time with the collaborative or his future plans.

The former Air Force pilot came to the board after a 20-year career in sales, marketing and politics. He served as the president of Maine & Co., a nonprofit that recruits companies to Maine, and assistant vice president at Canadian National Railway, where he led the company’s Asian strategy and built its intermodal business into a $1 billion-a-year enterprise. He was among seven Republicans to run for governor in 2010, but lost in the primary.

Board member Luke Holden, owner of Luke’s Lobster, praised Jacobson’s work on consumer education, media relations and stakeholder support.

“Under (his) leadership, the collaborative established itself as a strategy-driven marketing force, spreading the Maine lobster story across the globe,” Holden said.

But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Jacobson. Some complained the collaborative has spent too much time trying to sell the Maine lobster story to chefs at top U.S. restaurants instead of focusing on big-volume markets, like mass-market food distributors, overseas markets, cruise ship lines or hotel chains and foreign markets.

The Maine Lobstering Union complained about the collaborative’s trips to introduce Maine lobster to chefs at some of the trendiest restaurants in the country, although many Maine lobstermen who traveled with the collaborative said the trips effectively reframed Maine lobster in U.S. food circles.

Despite these challenges, Jacobson was able to secure legislative reauthorization for the collaborative last year through 2021. In response to the criticism, he led the group through a marketing strategy overhaul earlier this year. The board decided to keep the chef strategy in place, but to include seafood distributors in all of its education and training efforts to make sure fishmongers that supply large domestic markets are selling Maine lobster.

The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative is funded through fees paid by members of the state’s $1.4 billion lobster industry to promote the Maine lobster brand in both the media and restaurant business. The collaborative was created about six years ago, after a season in which fishermen saw low prices due to an early spring molt that caused a glut of U.S. and Canadian lobster to hit the market at the same time.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

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