Political pressure among ideas to save lobster industry

Posted Oct. 15, 2008, at 11:27 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:17 a.m.

DEER ISLE, Maine — In an effort to generate a market for Maine lobster, the Maine Lobster Promotion Council has developed a radio campaign in Maine that will run public service announcements on 25 radio stations around the state.

Council Executive Director Dane Somer said the promotion, along with press releases from the council, will generate interest in Maine and around the country.

The lobster marketing group also has developed a promotion with the Hannaford supermarket chain to retail lobster at lower prices. Scheduled to begin this weekend, that promotion should help move lobster products throughout the Northeast.

The council is working on developing similar promotions with other suppliers.

At a community meeting Tuesday night, lobstermen and community members offered ideas on how to deal with the lobster price crisis.

Developing a plant to process lobster here in Maine generated discussion.

“We ought to think a little bit about trying to process and label our own product,” one fisherman said.

Some said high U.S. labor costs would be a roadblock for such a project. The United States and Maine in particular are at a disadvantage trying to compete with Canadian processors, said Robin Alden, former Maine marine resources commissioner and executive director of the Penobscot East Resource Center which sponsored Tuesday’s meeting with the town of Stonington.

The Canadian government provides subsidies to the fishing industry, including assistance with debt, grants for building projects and subsidies for unemployment on the processing end of the business, Alden said.

A group of local industry representatives was scheduled to present that idea and others to Marine Resources Commissioner George LaPointe during a meeting in Augusta last night, among them:

ä Creating a Maine brand — or even a local Stonington brand for lobster landed in town — that would highlight not only the local quality and taste, but the sustainability measures, including size limits, that the state has in place.

ä Educating and encouraging people in the other 49 states about lobster and how to cook and eat it.

ä Utilizing the Internet to promote the industry.

ä Pressuring leaders in Augusta to tap into the $700 billion bailout funds for banks approved by Congress to help ease the impact of the financial crisis on the lobster industry and the fishermen.

ä Finding one-time bulk buyers for lobster as a way to sell lobster until markets improve.

ä Giving away 5,000 lobsters to high-end restaurants, anticipating that at today’s prices, that $12,500 investment would generate a lot of attention.

ä Pressuring state legislators for emergency legislation to help the industry.

ä Partnering with a business school to develop a long-range strategy for the industry.

In 2007, Maine lobstermen landed 56 million pounds of lobster with a total value of $248.5 million, according to Maine Department of Marine Resources estimates. In 2006, 72 million pounds of lobster worth nearly $300 million were caught in Maine.

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