lobster fishing, lobster industry, lobster fishing industry
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/AP
Travis Zickefoose, left, and Allan McCarthy of Seaview Lobster Co. in Kittery, Maine pack lobsters
for shipment.

Lobster Fishing Industry Struggles Amid Economic Downturn

December 03, 2008 10:32 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
The recession has severely impacted lobster fishermen in Nova Scotia and Maine, but although 2009 will be difficult, ideas for reviving the industry have emerged.

A Tough Job in Tough Times

In the recession’s wake, lobster prices have fallen sharply, endangering the livelihoods of fishermen in Nova Scotia and Maine.

According to The Canadian Press, fishermen need to earn at least $4 or $5 per pound of lobster caught to break even. In Canada and the United States, lobster prices have fallen to as low as $2 per pound, as demand has markedly decreased. Many people think of lobster as a luxury to enjoy just a few times a year.

As a result, some buyers have called for Nova Scotia fishermen to tie up their boats and stop fishing for the winter, while fishermen have demanded price increases, which experts say the market cannot withstand.

Lobster is the most lucrative of Canada’s seafood exports, according to Agriculture Canada, raking in close to $1 billion in export sales. But this year’s strong lobster harvest, combined with the financial crisis, has wrought havoc on the industry, reports the Daily Herald Tribune. And fishermen fear the effects could spread to Newfoundland, the Bay of Fundy and the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.

To cope, some Maine lobster fishermen have banded together, holding “special sales to help draw attention to lobster’s unusually low price and to provide fishermen with a needed boost in income.” Maine state legislators and officials also encouraged people to replace their Thanksgiving turkey with lobster this year, reported the Bangor Daily News.

Maine newspaper the Portland Press Herald concedes that although “increased local sales” can help to stabilize prices and keep many lobstermen employed, local revenue alone “can’t make up for the sharp drop in shipments to Canada and elsewhere.”

To revive the industry, government officials and fishing industry leaders are discussing exporting frozen lobster meat internationally. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, has said she will set up meetings of federal agencies with Maine’s lobster industry to further the efforts.

Background: Lobster fishing in Maine and Nova Scotia

In July 2008, lobster prices had already started to fall "more than usual" in Maine. The reason for the price drop was an excess in supply—Maine supplies nearly 80 percent of the U.S. lobster catch—and a decreased demand due to fewer vacationers in Maine, according to USA Today.

Maine supplies nearly 80 percent of the U.S. lobster catch, but fewer summer vacationers to Maine reduced demand. Lobster prices had already started to fall “more than usual” in late July 2008, according to USA Today.

Now, some Maine lobstermen are looking for other jobs, while others are preparing for a “long, lean winter,” reported the Portland Press Herald. Many fishermen fear “that the market won’t recover by next spring or summer,” which does not bode well for fishermen communities like Cutler, where “there are virtually no other jobs.” Fallen prices are starting to trickle down to trap makers, general stores and pickup truck dealers in northern Maine, as well, the Press Herald reported.

Lobster fishing season opened on Nov. 24 in Nova Scotia, and low prices were a serious concern. Fishermen had already “voted to stop fishing on Sunday out of ports from Baccaro to Digby in order to limit supply,” reported The Boston Globe.

The last time the lobster fishing industry suffered so badly was after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Travel restrictions resulted in rotting packages of lobster at U.S. airports, and the tragic mood stopped people from buying lobster meat, “which is usually eaten as a celebration food.” Tourism, which plays a large part in lobster demand, declined as well.

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