JONESPORT — Last week the news was filled with stories about the price of Maine lobster reaching its highest point in 10 years or more. Some trade publications were talking about 1¼-pound hardshells selling for as much as $8.50 over Labor Day weekend.
That may be true, but its news to most dealers and fishermen in Downeast Maine when it comes to discussing the boat price.
“I’m getting $4.35 plus whatever bonus at the end of the year,” a lobsterman from Blue Hill said on Sunday. That price was for shedders — or what the industry-funded Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative prefers to call “new shell” lobsters. The fisherman hasn’t caught any hardshell lobsters all summer.
At O.W. and B.S. Look Lobster in Jonesport, “we’re paying $3.30 for soft shell, plus a bonus,” at year’s end, owner Sid Look said Monday morning.
The Jonesport dealer is paying $5.50 per pound for “real” old-shell lobsters, but his fishermen are landing “very few” of those premium crustaceans.
That seems to be the way things are in most Downeast waters.
In Southwest Harbor last Friday, one dealer said he was paying fishermen $6.50 per pound for hardshells. That works out to just under $8.50 for a pound-and-a-quarter lobster, but those hardshells represented no more than 5 percent of landings, the dealer said, and landings over the past few weeks have been poor pretty much everywhere along the coast.
Landings are “down by 50 percent” from last year’s levels, according to the dealer from Southwest Harbor. In Corea, he said, the co-op handled 100 crates of lobsters on Thursday — down from 300 on the same day last year.
The Blue Hill Bay lobsterman said that he and other fishermen who set their gear in the lower bay have been trapping very few lobsters recently and only on bottom where no one else had set gear recently.
Way Downeast, the news hasn’t been any better recently. Lobstermen have been fishing hard, but lobsters have been hard to find.
According to Look, the fleet in Cutler, which fishes mostly in the deep, tide-wracked waters of the Bay of Fundy, has been experiencing a weak fishery since last month.
“For a couple of weeks the bottom kind of fell out of it,” he said.
Though not quite as bad, landings around Jonesport have been poor as well for both offshore fishermen and those who work up the bays.
“I call it a three-week lull,” Look said. “We haven’t been setting the world on fire.”
The shortage of landings is part of what is helping to drive up the price of lobsters, according to the Urner Barry, a commodity news reporting service that follows the seafood industry. Hardshell prices were up 25 cents from the previous week, and new shell prices were up 50 cents, as retailers stocked up for Labor Day weekend. Also driving the price, according to some sources, is increased demand from processors, largely attributable to the recent growth in the number of facilities operating in Maine and Massachusetts.
Price spike or no, dealers and fishermen are hoping to see landings increase with the onset of fall.
Around Blue Hill Bay, the fisherman said, there is cautious optimism about a fall run, but if the lobsters don’t start moving soon, he said, he will take up his gear and get out his carpenters tools.
Look said he thought landings might improve after the remnants of Hurricane Hermine pass by later this week.
“We’re all hoping,” he said. “Hoping and praying.”