Glutted Lobsters Market Puts Fishermen at Risk

STONINGTON — The price of lobster has sunk to levels not seen for decades and if things don’t improve soon the impact on some of Maine’s lobster fishermen could be devastating.

On Monday, the Stonington Lobster Co-op was paying fishermen $1.50 per pound for shedders — the soft-shelled lobsters that have started filling Downeast lobster traps a month or more earlier than they normally do. The situation was even worse farther to the west.

Last week, the Spruce Head Fishermen’s Co-op, one of the largest in western Penobscot Bay, paid members $1.25 per pound for shedders according to Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Commissioner Patrick Keliher.

“I heard rumors of $1 if they went out and fished Saturday,” he said.

Lobstermen are responding to the plunging price of the catch with increasing dismay and, in some cases, anger.

Keliher said Tuesday afternoon that, over the past two weeks, he has received an increasing volume of phone calls from fishermen, and lobster dealers, asking him to close the fishery down until the demand for lobsters — and the price — increases. The Marine Patrol also has been dealing with reports that fishermen have been threatened with having their traps cut off if they continue to fish and don’t tie up their boats. Those reports have been “more prevalent” east of Penobscot Bay, according to the commissioner.

“There’s been some threatening in some areas,” Keliher said. “We’re investigating, but a lot of it has been determined to involve issues unrelated to this.”

The “this” Keliher is talking about is an enormous oversupply of shedders in the market.

Historically, the peak of the shedder season in Maine waters comes in July or even August. This year, the shedders arrived as much as six weeks ahead of schedule. At the same time, the Canadian lobster season that usually peaks in May stayed strong right up until it closed at the end of June.

“The market was flooded with a bucket full of soft lobsters sooner than expected,” former DMR Commissioner George Lapointe said.

“They have to get the supply down and the demand higher.”

While there isn’t much the lobstermen can do to push up demand, along the coast there has been a considerable effort to reduce the supply.

On the Midcoast, fishermen in co-ops from Friendship to Rockland agreed to tie up their boats for a day or more, Keliher said

“The Spruce Head co-op took the first step; the individuals decided ‘I’m not going to go. It’s not worth it,’” Keliher said.

For more maritime news, pick up a copy of The Ellsworth American.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]