ROCKLAND, Maine — A day after the governor of Maine established a task force to review the sustainability of the state’s lobster industry, Rockland came together to rally the industry on its own.
Lobsterman Ryan Post sold live lobsters for $3.50 a pound from the back of a truck — selling more than 2,000 in less than two hours.
A local restaurant, the Brass Compass, offered lobster rolls at cost and sold 102 during lunch hour, finally running out of lobster.
And up and down U.S. Route 1, more than 40 area businesses purchased lobsters and then gave them away at raffles and other sales events. Heidi Stevens, co-owner of By George Jewelers, organized the event and gave away a free lobster with every sale.
“My father is a lobsterman. My brother is a lobsterman. My other brother is a fisherman. I had to do something,” Stevens said.
The event was embraced by residents and tourists, who wandered in and out of the businesses and lined up 20 deep at Post’s truck.
John Lohnes Jr. of Waldoboro rode up on his Suzuki motorcycle and stuffed two lobsters into a bag within his backpack. “I’m doing this to help the lobstermen,” he said.
Fred Clough of Rockland bought 20 lobsters for $81.20. “I’ll cook them, eat some and freeze the rest for winter,” he said, admitting, however, that the real reason he purchased so many was to help the lobstermen.
Post and his cousin John Post put 1,000 pounds of lobster on their truck Saturday morning. “We sold out in less than an hour,” he said while waiting for another 1,000 lobsters to be delivered.
“But we’re not doing this today for the money,” he said. “We want to get the ordinary customer to enjoy the product. Do the math. It’s affordable, organic and good for you.”
Post called Rockland “the lobster capital of the world” and said that most people don’t understand the role the industry plays within the economy.
“The industry is the foundation of Rockland,” he said. “The money that the lobstermen make is put back into the economy when we pay excise tax, buy boats, paint, buoys, fuel and bait.”
Prices for live lobsters tanked in recent weeks, dropping to $2 off the boat for some lobstermen, prompting government officials to call for solutions.
“Our lobstermen, the life-blood of many coastal communities, are facing prices which have fallen to levels not seen in decades, precisely at the peak of the lobster season, when many fishermen would typically earn the bulk of their annual income,” U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe said this week. “Coupled with the record high costs for fuel and bait they have battled all summer, and the looming federal mandate to replace much of their rope to protect endangered whales, this shock could lead to serious disruptions in fishermen’s lives. They are feeling the effects of a global economic crisis on a truly local scale.”
Although lobster prices have increased slightly this past week, fishermen are reeling from the crash in October that came at the same time they catch the most lobster. Lobster prices plummeted as frugal consumers didn’t buy them and Canadian processors held back ordering in reaction to the global financial crisis. Many fishermen are concerned they will not financially make it through the winter.
On Friday, Gov. John Baldacci established the Task Force on the Economic Sustainability of Maine’s Lobster Industry. It is charged with reviewing the industry and making recommendations to the Legislature by next April.
“The lobster industry — including the fishermen, dealers, processors and associated businesses — is absolutely crucial to Maine’s economy and heritage,” Baldacci said. “We must make a thorough review of the industry in light of the current global economic, financial and energy challenges in order to ensure its long-term sustainability.”
Last week, Baldacci directed a number of state departments to work on financial issues affecting lobster businesses and families. The Department of Economic and Community Development, the Department of Marine Resources, and the Finance Authority of Maine have begun meeting with financial institutions and agencies to expedite measures that may bring relief.
Also on Friday, Snowe and state Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry, announced they are working to set up a joint meeting between leaders of the lobster industry and representatives from the Small Business Administration, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program, and the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
They said one of the key goals of the meeting will be to develop creative methods to encourage lobster processing facilities to return to the state. “By encouraging domestic value-added processing of Maine’s signature seafood, we will reduce the fishery’s reliance on volatile foreign financing and bring new jobs to the state,” Snowe said.
Raye added, “I have been deeply concerned about the loss of Maine’s processing capacity, and have been working to encourage it as a way to help Maine lobstermen and create jobs. I am hopeful that the increased awareness resulting from the current crisis in Maine’s lobster industry will spur more interest in bringing this goal to fruition. It would be a win-win situation.”