WINTER HARBOR, Maine — For many coastal Maine towns, lobsters are more than just a draw for the summer tourists. The lobster industry is the primary economic engine that binds those towns.
From the boats that dot the bays and inlets to the hundreds of traps that line the shores, evidence of lobster fishing is not hard to find.
That’s certainly the case for Winter Harbor. This community on the Schoodic Peninsula in Hancock County relies on lobsters perhaps more than any other in a state that is known for producing the crustaceans.
“This is what there is here,” said Rick Duhaime, who manages the Winter Harbor Lobster Co-op.
Once a year, the town celebrates its biggest export with a festival that aims to lure in residents and tourists alike. On Saturday, hundreds gathered for the 46th annual Winter Harbor Lobster Festival.
Linda Elliott, president of the Schoodic Chamber of Commerce, said the event is a big deal for the town.
“We all know how beautiful it is here, but it’s a great way for others to experience it too,” she said Saturday while running a table selling festival T-shirts.
This year’s festival featured many elements that have become standard, including a traditional lobster bake, lobster boat races, a parade, a large craft fair and a contradance in the evening. Elliott said the latest version of the festival included two new events, a bagpipe concert and Jaws of Life demonstrations from the fire depart-ments in Winter Harbor and nearby Gouldsboro.
Under a tent near the former Peninsula School, dozens gathered at lunchtime Saturday, bibs and shell crackers ready. For $15, they got a lobster, corn on the cob, coleslaw, Maine blueberries for dessert and a drink. Some splurged and got two lobsters for $25.
All the lobsters came directly from the co-op, which has been around for 40 years and represents more than 30 fisherman, Duhaime said.
The benefit of the co-op is that it can bulk-purchase fuel, supplies and bait to help keep costs down. The co-op also handles the selling of each catch. A lobsterman can dock his or her boat, unload traps and head home.
“The alternative is lobstermen driving somewhere to unload their catch, which takes time they don’t always have,” Duhaime said.
For the first time, the co-op began selling lobsters retail this year. The facility off Main Street, literally steps from the water, recently built a giant, climate-controlled indoor tank that can hold 30,000 pounds of lobster. The prices are $4 a pound for soft-shell, $6 a pound for hard shell and $7 a pound for any creature weighing more than 2 pounds.
“That’s the best deal around,” Duhaime said.
The co-op also sells to local restaurants and of course to the many summer residents who call the Schoodic Peninsula home.
Elliott at the Chamber of Commerce has been involved with planning the festival for the past seven years. Proceeds from the event help fund the Chamber’s operations and pay for scholarships to local high school students.