May 28, 2018
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Making Lobster Easier

The key to succeeding in business is to sell customers what they want. That is true of the state’s iconic lobster industry, too. While live lobster is a treat now and then, if lobstermen want to sell more, it needs to be packaged in an easier-to-use form. A law change making its way through the Legislature will belatedly allow the state’s lobster industry to begin to meet this customer demand for processed meat.

Lobstermen and others have long lamented the lack of lobster processing in Maine. A state task force highlighted one of the reasons — a state law that prevents lobster from being sold in pieces.

Last week, the House unanimously passed a bill that would update the law to allow products that are more consumer-friendly. It is expected to pass the Senate soon.

The change will allow parts of lobster to be processed and packaged, as they currently are in Canada, where 80 percent of the lobster caught in Maine is processed.

“Consumers are far more interested in eating easy-to-prepare convenience foods,” Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, told the Marine Resources Committee as it considered LD 1593.

“Outside of New England, the majority of consumers are not comfortable purchasing and preparing a live product. Offering convenient lobster products opens up tremendous market opportunity,” she said. Selling frozen lobster meat, for example, would make it easier to use in soups and pasta.

No one expects a rush of lobster processors in Maine because of the law change, but eliminating an unnecessary impediment will help expand the market for Maine lobster.

The current law, which prohibits lobster claws and knuckles from being sold separately from the body of a lobster, was well-intentioned. It was meant to ensure that illegal short lobsters weren’t caught and sold because the only way to know if a lobster part came from a legal-sized lobster was to be able to measure the whole body. The Department of Marine Resources said that Maine’s lobster conservation efforts can be maintained without such a provision.

The law also unintentionally led to waste because claws are sometimes shed while lobsters are in transit. Those loose claws had to be thrown away; after the law change, they can be used as part of a frozen lobster package or as lobster meat.

“LD 1593 honors the conservation measures of the lobster industry while providing the flexibility that processors need to remain competitive in a competitive market,” Ms. McCarron told lawmakers.

Passing this bill is a common-sense update to the state’s regulation of one of Maine’s best-known industries.

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