Lobster fishermen, already angry and frustrated at having to fish with rope that causes problem after problem, grew even angrier at what they consider an unsustainable new shell lobster price of $2 to $2.25 per lb.

Up and down the coast lobster fishermen gathered to consider striking for a higher price with a boat tie-up. But with the economy as poor as it is, tourism down, people saving rather than spending, and the shedder season about to peak, they realized that by bringing home no pay at all, they would just be hurting themselves.

As fishermen milled around the Jonesport marina on Sunday, July 19, independent lobster broker and industry veteran Toni Lilienthal spoke to different groups. “I told them they have to bring in a better product if they want better money,” she said. “We’ve only got a short season.”

She reminded them that Canada doesn’t allow its fishermen to trap lobster during the summer molting period. Rather Canada waits until the fall, by which time shells have hardened, then permits them to trap hard shell lobster all winter and spring, for which fishermen can demand more money for the better product. Lilienthal told the Jonesport fishermen that they were going about getting higher prices the wrong way.

“What we’re doing,” she said, “we’re going out on a Monday, which is the biggest fishing day. Monday,” she said, “there is absolutely no market,” she said. “There’s no market,” she explained, “because it’s the day [buyers] make decisions about prices.” She said dealers don’t buy on Mondays because they don’t want to get caught paying too much or too little. Therefore, she said, “All these lobsters land on the dock, and they’re shedders. They go out to the highest bidder,” she said because sellers have no choice. They can’t keep them. Their shells are too soft. They won’t travel; they won’t keep unless they’re either popped into a refrigerated holding system or cooked and eaten or processed immediately.

“When the market starts rolling and dealers have orders for Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday,” Lilienthal said, “go fishing Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Stay home on Friday,” she advised, “because there are not many deliveries for Saturday and Sunday.”

She brought up the problem of too-soft lobster, saying, “What better way to conserve than to not bring in any lobster that can’t be properly banded? Do you realize how much you could conserve? And [the lobster] will be there two weeks later for you to catch.” She mentioned the state Department of Marine Fisheries talking about conserving lobster stock by cutting down on the number of traps fished and said, “You don’t need to lose any pots. That’s not conserving.

“By the time you get this [system] rolling and you’re fishing just the three days a week,” she said, “you’re bringing in a product that can be legitimately banded.” According to Lilienthal, by the time fishermen go out to haul the following Tuesday, people will be lined up wanting the product versus the way it’s being done now, she said, explaining, “You can’t take Monday’s product, cull it properly, and keep it till Wednesday or Thursday. Not a shedder.

“You’ve got to make the market want the lobsters,” she said, “All you’re doing by going by the side of the road and peddling the lobster is getting the supermarkets, who can use a ton of them, pissed off because you’re selling them [for less] than they are.” She also reminded fishermen that it takes about a dollar for a lobster to go through the lobster industry chain or pipeline to get to that grocery store. “It’s got to go through the proper chain,” she said, “or the grocery store won’t take them. They won’t take just the ocean run because they do not want culls, deads, or weaks (lobster too soft or weak to hold up its claws).”

Sheila Dassatt, Down East Lobstermen’s Association Executive Director, who heard Lilienthal speak, responded by saying, “My opinion is that we need to be responsible when we fish and try to work with the docks and dealers the best that we can. If fishing on these busy days creates a glut, then it would be best to go when it is profitable for everyone involved.” Dassatt went on to say, “We know we can’t regulate, but we can all use our business heads and work this out.” She added, “I’ve heard other dealers say this, too.”

The answer to conserving the resource, as Lilienthal and other dealers have repeated for years, is for fishermen to bring in a marketable item. “That’s all you need,” she said. “And bring it in on marketable days. In all actuality,” she stated, “the better quality product fishermen bring in, the more marketable days they’ll have.”