Boston – January 10, 2013 — Maine Lobster landings for 2012 saw a record 123 million pounds of lobsters caught, an astonishing figure that is more than 450% higher than just 20 years ago and further evidence of unparalleled growth for the industry. The value of the catch has gone from $72 million in 1992 to more than $331 million in 2012.
According to experts, no other fisheries segment has seen such growth during the last two decades. These figures suggest two conclusions: One, that the appetite among seafood lovers for Maine lobster has grown quickly, and two; that sustainable fishing practices have worked to keep the industry healthy.
The challenge facing the industry is that the 2012 average lobster boat price – the price paid to fishermen for lobster at the dock — is the same as it was 20 years ago. Meanwhile the price of diesel fuel has tripled along with big increases in the cost of bait and boat repairs, creating financial stress for boat owners. In 2012 there were 4,345 active commercial lobster harvesters.
Jon Carter, a Bar Harbor fisherman, told the Bangor Daily News that the volume of his catch went up last year but he still had a hard time covering his expenses. For example, bait cost about $25 per bushel in the Mount Desert Island area this past fishing season. Carter said that price is “probably 10 times higher” than the per-bushel price he paid in 1994.
The record 2012 catch began early following a mild winter and warm spring. Experts believe the unusually warm ocean waters produced early gluts of lobster that dealers and processors were unable to absorb. The early catch was weighted towards shedders, or soft shell lobster. The price for soft shell lobster plummeted while the price for hard shell lobster did not. Only hard shell lobster can be shipped long distances as the new shell lobsters are too delicate to survive out of water for more than a few hours. Local prices for soft shell lobster dropped while at some point, the demand for hard shell lobster drove hard shell prices up.
Last year’s harvest, while record setting in volume, has the experts worried.
As of January 3, 2013, reports to the Maine Department of Marine Resources indicate more than 123 million pounds of lobsters have been caught in 2012, an increase of approximately 18 million pounds over 2011.
“This unprecedented preliminary landings report provides us with both an opportunity and a challenge,” said Commissioner Patrick Keliher. “We need to look closely at this abundant resource and address the challenges presented when supply exceeds demand, as it did this past year, resulting in a decreased overall value which affects the entire industry. To put this into perspective, in 2005, the industry landed 70 million pounds for $320 million.
While the lobster fishery has experienced unparalleled growth in landings, the total value is almost $331 million, a decrease of $3.7 million compared to 2011.
“We will be seeking input into the development of management measures that respond to abundant supply and its adverse impact statewide on boat price, particularly in the summer months,” added the Commissioner. “These issues are a big part of the dialogue I will be having with industry over the next month during a series of public meetings.”
The 2011 lobster landings of 104,887,598 pounds with a value of $334,690,345 were at the time the highest lobster landings and value ever recorded since DMR and National Marine Fisheries Service began keeping records. At that time, the pounds and value increased from 2010 levels by more than 8.6 million pounds and $15.7 million. For reference, 2010 landings were 96,208,807 pounds with a value of $318,891,777.
In January 2008, DMR began collecting detailed trip level records from dealers. According to the information reported to date, there were 4,345 active commercial lobster harvesters out of the 5,961 commercial license holders in 2011.
© Wayne Howe 2013