ELLSWORTH — Maine’s 2017 lobster landings were down from record levels but still topped 110 million pounds, according to figures released by the Department of Marine Resources last Friday. The average boat price was down, too, but harvesters still took home more than $450 million last year.
In a release issued moments before the annual meeting of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum in Rockland, DMR reported 2017 lobster landings of 110,819,760 pounds, 16 percent less than the 2016 total of 132,536,606 pounds but still the sixth highest ever.
The landed value of the catch, including bonuses paid by 15 of the state’s 20 lobster co-ops, was $450,799,283. That works out to an average of about $4.07 per pound paid to harvesters. Without the reported bonuses, last year’s boat price was $3.91 per pound, down from a reported $4.08 in 2016.
While many environmental factors may have contributed to the decline, one sure contributor was a decrease in the number of traps in the water.
According to DMR, in 2016 5,664 harvesters held commercial lobster licenses and bought just over 2.9 million trap tags.
Last year, there were 236 fewer license holders, 5,428, and DMR reported about 330,000 fewer traps — some 2,868,000.
Assuming that every trap tag represents a trap in the water, the average landings per trap in 2016 were about 45.7 pounds. In 2017, the average was about 38.6 pounds per trap, a decline of about 15.5 percent per trap.
According to NOAA Fisheries data, lobster was the species with the highest landed value in the United States in both 2015 and 2016, and Maine landings accounted for about 80 percent of the landed value in 2016.
While lobster landings, and earnings were down — some fishermen reported that their earning dropped by 30 percent or more between 2016 and 2017 — last year was a good one for the Maine fishing industry.
Maine harvesters landed more than a half-billion dollars worth of marine resources — some $569,173,089. That was the fourth highest total landings ever and just the sixth time that harvesters topped the $500 million mark.
Herring, the favored lobster bait for Maine fishermen, was the state’s second most valuable fishery with landings of about 66.5 million pounds fetching some $17,993,786 — at a record price of 27 cents per pound.
Landings and earnings were down significantly for Maine’s clammers, but their fishery still remained the third most valuable in the state. Valued at some $12.4 million, clam landings of about 6.9 million pounds in the shell dropped about $3.8 million in value over the previous year.
Despite being limited by a 9,688-pound quota imposed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Maine elver fishermen enjoyed another solid year, landing 9,343 pounds of the juvenile eels valued at $12,155,672, an average of $1,303 per pound. The 2018 quota is unchanged, but an increase may be on the horizon.
Scallop harvesters had their best year since 1997, landing 793,544 pounds of meats — a jump of nearly 45 percent over 2016. At $9,300,111, scallops attained their highest landed value since 1993.
DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher attributed the landings increase to management measures developed by the department and the scallop industry over the past several years.
“Maine’s scallop fishery continues its impressive rebound thanks in large part to harvesters whose compliance with area closures and (landings) limits have been critical to the success of the fishery,” Keliher said.