Representative Chellie Pingree stresses the need for measures to reform the sector. (Photo: www.pingree.house.gov)
Maine lawmaker calls for help to aid lobster fishers
Friday, July 13, 2012, 23:30 (GMT + 9)
Representative Chellie Pingree, D-Maine considers the drop in lobster prices is a "disaster" and is calling for measures to help lobster fishers and to reform the sector, which is vital to Maine’s economy.
Wholesale prices for lobsters in the state hit rock bottom this week, going for less than USD 1.50 per lb in some places -- the lowest price since the 1970s. Prices are so low they are jeopardising the livelihood of local fishers, Pingree said this week.
"It's a disaster for the fishing industry," Pingree stated, FoxNews reports. "These guys can't afford to go fishing for anything less than USD 2-USD 2.50 a lb when you think of the price of fuel (for boats). They've got to earn a living."
Maine's lobster catch tends to start increasing in early July, as the crustaceans begin shedding their hard shells for new soft shells and tourists arrive for the summer. But this year soft-shell lobsters began emerging in great numbers six weeks earlier than normal.
These lobsters must be sold locally or sent to processing plants in Canada because they are too fragile to be shipped long-distance. But this year Canadian processors cannot handle the excessive supply of Maine lobsters because Canadian lobster fishers had plentiful catches earlier this spring, which has led to a backlog.
"We have a huge oversupply of the kind of lobster that has less value," Pingree said. "A big part of our market is shipping them to everyone else."
She suggested that Maine start building its own processing facilities as one long-term solution.
"That hasn’t been the focus of the industry for so long," she commented. "We’ve never really developed sophisticated methods to ship soft-shell lobsters."
But Bob Bayer, a professor at the University of Maine and executive director of the Lobster Institute, informed that his data says the average price of lobster in Maine is actually higher than what Pingree and others have reported.
"The average price is around USD 2.50 for new shell lobsters, which is a problem, and USD 4.50 for hard shell lobsters," Bayer said. "It's from USD 1 to USD 1.50 lower than last summer."
Either way, many lobster fishers are pondering whether to continue fishing or keep their boats tied to the docks.
Some believe that the more fishers who stay ashore, the better the chances that prices will rebound more quickly, Lewiston Sun Journal reports.
Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher this week warned lobster fishers against pressuring others to stay ashore.
"We have heard that fishermen are seeking to impose a de facto shutdown of the fishery and coercing others into complying by threatening to cut off their gear," he said. "The state will not tolerate any trap molestation, and any such actions will be met with targeted and swift enforcement or other appropriate action. Harvesters should also be aware that such actions may be in violation of federal antitrust laws."
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