ELLSWORTH — Maine’s commercial fisheries are thriving in spite of a pandemic year, tariffs on trade with China and looming issues affecting lobsters and lobstermen. The Maine Department of Marine Resources announced on March 24 an ex-vessel value of $516,796,614 for the state’s 2020 commercial landings.
Even Governor Janet Mills weighed in: “Maine fishermen and seafood dealers weathered one of the most difficult years in memory, but through hard work and an unwavering dedication to quality, they were able to once again provide tremendous value for seafood consumers, and a vital economic foundation for Maine’s coastal communities.”
Lobsters account for nearly 80 percent of the ex-vessel value, hauling in $405,983,832 worth of lobsters to Maine ports. DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher noted a 5 percent decline in lobster landings by pound compared to 2019. Nonetheless, the 96-million-pound catch was the ninth highest in Maine’s history. A higher than usual boat price of $4.20 per pound — compared to the $3.76 average — helped bring up the ex-vessel landing value for 2020.
The elver fishery, which saw dealer prices drop 75 percent to just over $500 per pound, still netted $5,067,521 for harvesters.
Stonington was named the top port in Maine by ex-vessel value ($43.26 million) and second highest by live pounds (11.91 million). Down the coast, Southwest Harbor was a top-10 port for landing value for the first time in at least five years, with $11.63 million worth of seafood coming onto its docks for a seventh-place ranking.
That may be because fishermen from neighboring Bar Harbor and Northeast Harbor were landing at Southwest Harbor for better prices, former Southwest Harbor Harbormaster Adam Thurston noted. “We get a lot of people coming in now from other towns to sell their catch.” And MDI Lobster, on Clark Point Road, was also offering an attractive price for lobsters, in addition to filling lobstermen’s boats with fuel and their buckets with bait.
“Beal’s were trying to keep up with it,” Thurston said, referring to Beal’s Lobster Pound at the end of Clark Point Road.
Of all Maine counties, Hancock County landed the highest volume of lobsters with 10,565,253 pounds. The total value was $127,933,608, which also led the state. But not by much. Cumberland County brought in only 205,000 pounds less than Hancock County, although the value was much lower at $46,298,002. This is a far cry from 2019, when Cumberland County matched a shade over one-third of Hancock County’s lobster landing pounds.
The economic health of the lobster and total commercial fishery may come as a surprise to many.
“At this time last year, the industry was facing a pending market collapse due to COVID-19, but industry’s response was remarkable,” Keliher noted in the DMR’s announcement. “Dealers developed new markets and harvesters adjusted effort based on market realities, all of which resulted in a good boat price during a year with seemingly insurmountable obstacles.”
Lobsters accounted for 48 percent of all Maine landings, menhaden (used as lobster bait) for 12 percent, seaweed for 8 percent, Atlantic herring for 6 percent, blue mussels for 4 percent and scallops and soft clams for 3 percent each. Ranked by value, lobsters top the list at 79 percent of all commercial landings value, with soft clams at 3 percent and menhaden, oysters and elvers at 1 percent of landings each.
The DMR considers the data as projected rather than confirmed.
Mount Desert Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley contributed to this report.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the ranking of Southwest Harbor. It was seventh.