AUGUSTA — Lobster, the state’s most lucrative fishing sector, saw a continuation in 2013 of some of the troubling trends that have plagued the industry in recent years.
According to the state Department of Marine Resources (DMR), 125.9 million pounds of lobster were landed last year, making it the second highest total since DMR and the National Marine Fisheries Service began recording landing numbers. In 2012, an estimated 123-plus milion pounds were landed.
Landings have increased dramatically in recent years and that has contributed, through supply-and-demand market dynamics, to a low per-pound price for fishermen. The per-pound price has dipped, often hovering just below and just above $2 in mid-summer.
Warmer ocean waters, a decline in fish that feed on juvenile lobster and other factors have been suggested as possible causes for the increase in landings.
The poor economy also contributed to a slip in demand for lobster, which is typically a high-end menu item in restaurants.
The average per pound price paid to fishermen in 2013 increased 20 cents to $2.89 from $2.69 in 2012, according to DMR, which is relying on preliminary data. Those figures put the total value of lobster landings for fishermen at $364 million for 2013, which is $22 million more than 2012 totals.
The uptick means prices moved in the right direction last year, but the news in context is less encouraging.
“While an increase in price per pound is a good sign,” said Patrick Keliher, DMR commissioner, “it still is the second lowest since 1995.”
Keliher said the numbers underscore the importance of the newly created Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative (MLMC), which replaces the Maine Lobster Promotion Council. MLMC will have more funding, most coming from harvesters, and, the industry hopes, a sharper focus in growing new markets for the state’s signature seafood.
The DMR announcement also noted that its report now includes new data from lobster cooperatives, businesses owned jointly by fishermen to increase sales clout. With 17 of the 19 coops reporting, fishermen earned more than $14 million in bonuses from sales last year, which typically are paid out at the end of the season.
Keliher noted that the bonuses put the total value of lobster landings at $378 million.
DMR also reported that scallop landings increased from 286,411 meat pounds in 2012 to 424,547 meat pounds in 2013.
Keliher called the scallop fishery a “true success story in Maine’s commercial fishing industry,” the result of “a forward looking management plan.”
DMR reported that 7,320 people worked as commercial fishermen in Maine in 2013, with 4,239 active lobster harvesters. The soft shell clam fishery saw 1,749 active harvesters, eels had 759 harvesters, followed by 652 harvesting marine worms and 613 landing periwinkles.
The landing report is accessible at: http://www.maine.gov/dmr/comfish.htm.