by Rep. Chellie Pingree
No doubt you’ve heard about the recent drop in lobster prices this summer (and hopefully you’ve had a chance to take advantage of it!). But while the sudden drop in lobster prices has been nice for consumers, it’s been terribly frustrating for lobstermen. In the short term, I hope fishermen can recover quickly, but in the long term we need to take a serious look at the situation’s root causes and address those problems before they become a regular occurrence.
There are several factors behind the current dip in market prices. It all started when Maine lobstermen caught an influx of “shedders” â recently molted, soft-shelled lobsters â much earlier in the season than usual. The mild winter and warm spring meant lobster molted several weeks early, throwing off the timing of the catch. Normally, they are caught in July, with the majority sent to Canada for processing. Instead, they were caught in May when those facilities already had a ready supply from Canadian fishermen having a banner year. Canadian processors just did not have a need for Maine lobster. Without another outlet to market shedders, prices fell.
What has this meant for local lobstermen and coastal communities? Prices so low for many fishermen that the value of their catch isn’t enough to cover expenses. Many lobstermen have even tied up their boats until prices go up. For coastal communities, it has deepened a sense of uncertainty about the future.
It’s true that a “perfect storm” of conditions made this situation especially difficult, but it’s deeply troubling, because few of the problems behind the crisis are new, and, if we do nothing, could get worse.
One of the biggest threats to Maine’s fisheries is climate change. Research being done right here in Maine has found that climate change has already impacted valuable fisheries around the world. The recent shift in lobster shedding is a troubling sign that a changing climate could have major implications for the future of Maine’s fisheries. Maine is fortunate to have great institutions like the University of Maine and Gulf of Maine Research Institute working on these problems, but we need to support additional research to find what changes are on the way and how we can prepare for them.
It’s also clear that we rely too heavily on Canada for processing our lobster â if we had more capacity in Maine, this year’s problem might not have been so bad. Several facilities here in Maine do great work, but our capacity is still small. There’s no reason to send our lobster to Canada when processing them can support jobs right here in Maine. But we need more investment to make these things happen.
Additional marketing of Maine seafood, including lobster, also holds promise. With the public’s greater appreciation for sustainable seafood, the health of Maine’s lobster fishery could be a major asset. And there’s no doubt that Maine seafood still has huge potential to expand around the country and world. Part of my legislation, the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, would do this by supporting marketing efforts of local fisheries groups, like co-ops and community-supported fisheries.
Perhaps most importantly, this summer has reminded us that we need to protect our coastal communities from shocks in one market by making sure that other parts of their economies are strong. In other words, we should continue to support all fisheries in Maine and related industries with working waterfront investment, promotional efforts, and research.
In Maine’s coastal communities, lobster and marine trades are key parts to our economy. Just as importantly, it’s a way of life that we love. Maine isn’t just a pretty coastline. We’re one of the best places in the nation to see a valuable marine resource economy in motion, because we’ve worked so hard to support it. But this recent crisis in the lobster market shows that we need to do more to protect those jobs and that legacy.
â U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree