Lobstering may capture the imagination of authors and artists, but the act of hauling Maine’s signature crustacean is just one part of the state’s ‘s $1.5 billion trap-to-table industry – it takes a sprawling network of dealers, retailers and processors to get the annual harvest to market.

This behind-the-scenes supply chain landed an outsize amount of the industry’s share of federal pandemic relief. While lobstermen received $14.9 million in small Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, loans and at least $300,000 in large ones, it was spread out among almost 1,400 fishermen. On the supply chain side, 134 companies netted more than $9.1 million.

Live lobsters ready for shipment at Lobster Co. in Arundel. Associated Press

Dealers who buy a lobsterman’s haul for resale got 76 loans. Those included $2.6 million in small loans, averaging $40,699 each, and at least $2.5 million in large loans, including four of at least $350,000 each to Carver Shellfish in Beals, Maine Shellfish Co. in Ellsworth, Greenhead Lobster in Stonington and Maine Coast in York.

The U.S. Small Business Administration estimates PPP loans have saved 732 jobs. But local and national reviews of program data suggests reporting problems have overestimated the number of jobs actually saved by the loans.

Dealers sell some high-grade lobsters to retailers, which landed 42 PPP loans – $1.2 million in small loans, the smallest of which was $2,500 to a Springvale retailer, and $1.1 million in large loans. Portland’s Harbor Fish Market received the largest retailer loan of at least $350,000. The average small loan to retailers in Maine was $34,269. In total, the SBA estimates 360 retailer jobs were saved.

Dealers sell lobster that isn’t sturdy enough to be shipped abroad or sold at a high price at restaurants to seafood processors, which remove the meat from the shell to sell as frozen tail, claw or knuckle meat that can be used to make products such as lobster rolls, ravioli or mac and cheese.

Maine processors received 16 PPP loans, including $232,400 in small loans and at least $1.5 million in large loans. The smallest was $2,611 to an unnamed Jonesport company and the biggest were two for at least $350,000 each to Bristol Seafood and Browne Trading Co., both of Portland. In total, 237 processor jobs were saved, according to SBA.

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