In 2009, Maine lobstermen caught more lobster than ever had been recorded for an annual statewide haul, but still struggled as the price of lobster sank to its lowest level in more than a decade.
The continued poor state of the economy is receiving a lot of attention as the fall elections approach, but anecdotal reports indicate that lobstermen may have reason to be a little more optimistic than they were last fall. The price fishermen are getting for their catch is higher than it was a year ago, and many fisherman say their catches remain high, industry officials are saying.
Patrice McCarron, executive director of Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said Thursday that feedback she has received from the group’s members suggests that their catches have been substantial. She said that, based on data collected by MLA, the price seems to be about 25 cents higher than it was one year ago, when fisher-men generally were getting just under $3 per pound for their catch. Now, fishermen generally are getting slightly more than $3 per pound.
“I’ve heard both things,” McCarron said, referring to high catch volumes and higher prices. “[But] we still have to get through the fall.”
Late summer and early fall are the busiest time for lobstermen, who in recent years have generally caught between 70 and 75 percent of their total annual haul between August and November. For that reason, catches will have to stay high for the next two months if the annual lobster harvest is going to resemble or exceed last year’s record landings total of more than 78 million pounds.
The average annual statewide price that lobstermen received for the catch in 2009 was $2.92, the same as it was in 1998, according to Maine Department of Marine Resources statistics. The year with the highest such price was 2005, when Maine lobstermen caught nearly 69 million pounds and on average were paid $4.63 per pound.
The lobster fishery is by far the most lucrative in the state. The $228 million that the state’s lobster fleet earned in 2009 represents 70 percent of all money commercial fishermen earned in Maine last year.
Official DMR statistics for 2010 lobster landings are not available because required landings reports often are filed months after the fact. Reports on this summer’s landings that DMR may have received so far would not yet reflect the amount of lobster fishermen have actually caught, officials said.
Bar Harbor fisherman Todd Goodell said Wednesday that he and others around Frenchman Bay seem to be catching more lobsters this year than in 2009, but he said 2009 wasn’t that good for local fishermen.
“We’re definitely having a better year than last year,” he said. “The last couple of years have been hard on a lot of guys.”
Fishermen who took out bank loans for new houses or boats in the mid-2000s, when the boat price peaked, have been hit the worst, he said.
Goodell said the local boat price of lobster has increased from last year to above $3 and said fuel expenses aren’t as bad as they were in the summer of 2008, when diesel soared to nearly $5 per gallon. Diesel prices in Maine are currently just under $3 per gallon, according to AAA.
Bait prices, however, remain high, due mainly to a shortage of available herring, the preferred bait for lobstermen. Goodell said local bait prices have gone up from about $22 a bushel in 2009 to $25 a bushel this year.
Goodell declined to speculate on whether the higher prices for lobster might hold out through the fall.
“You never know,” he said. “Whatever you make, you better save to see how it turns out.”
Clive Farrin, president of Down East Lobstermen’s Association, said Wednesday that he’s heard some fishermen have been catching a lot of lobster this summer, but that hasn’t been the case for him. Farrin, who fishes out of Boothbay Harbor, said he thinks he caught fewer lobster last month than he did in August 2009.
Farrin said recent offshore hurricanes have interfered with fishing in unprotected areas.
“It hasn’t really calmed down,” he said. “We’ve had three storms right up by us.”
Farrin said that prices are up a little bit since 2009, with those in the Boothbay Harbor area recently increasing from around $2.80 per pound to $3.10 per pound. But it is still low, especially compared to the cost of maintaining a boat and baiting fishing gear.
“What we’re getting for lobsters now is what we got in the mid-1990s,” Farrin said.