Pingree urges cruise ships calling on Portland to buy up Maine lobster to help drive up demand

Lobsters are unloaded from a fishing boat earlier this month in Portland.
Robert F. Bukaty | BDN
Lobsters are unloaded from a fishing boat earlier this month in Portland.
Posted Aug. 13, 2012, at 11:09 a.m.
Portland's first cruise ship of the season, the Carnival Glory, towers over the waterfront in June. It was the first ever cruise ship to load provisions in Portland in what city officials hope is the start of an ongoing practice.
Portland's first cruise ship of the season, the Carnival Glory, towers over the waterfront in June. It was the first ever cruise ship to load provisions in Portland in what city officials hope is the start of an ongoing practice. Buy Photo

PORTLAND, Maine — Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree is attacking Maine’s supply-and-demand lobster crisis from a demand side, urging the heads of large cruise ship companies to buy up the crustaceans to serve to their thousands of passengers.

“This could be a big untapped market for wholesalers in the area,” Pingree said in a statement Monday. “And sometimes in a situation like this, you just have to get the attention of the head of these big corporations to get them to notice what we have to offer here in Maine.”

Pingree’s office stated that although a record catch in Maine this summer has created a troublesome oversupply of lobsters — surpassing demand and driving down prices for lobstermen — many cruise ships that call on the state’s largest city “typically [don’t take] advantage of local lobster suppliers while in port.”

The glut of Maine lobster has forced down prices so much that lobstermen in Connecticut and New Brunswick have complained that the Maine lobsters were undercutting their prices.

In New Brunswick, the battle grew so fierce that the Canadian lobstermen blocked the sale of Maine lobster to their local processing facilities until a judge ordered the business to be allowed — and the New Brunswick lobstermen were given a guarantee their lobster would be bought at $3.50 per pound or more, $1 more than the processors have been paying Maine lobstermen.

Pingree says the 59 cruise ship visits coming to Portland this summer and fall — carrying more than 69,000 passengers — can provide an untapped market for the crustaceans to help balance the supply-and-demand equation somewhat.

“I am writing to you today to strongly urge you to consider buying fresh-off-the-boat Maine lobster when the [cruise ship name] calls in Maine this year,” Pingree wrote in several letters sent out to cruise ship company heads, in part. “Maine lobstermen are in the middle of a record-breaking season. Not only does the ample supply guarantee a good value for your company, but purchasing locally sourced seafood would set a great example for other companies like yours in strengthening Maine’s economy and coastal communities. In fact, the vitality of our fishing industry is inextricably linked to the health and character of the coastal communities that entice and thrill your passengers.”

Earlier this summer, Portland city and port officials began a trial effort loading supplies for cruise ships, a step locals hoped would convince more ships to buy local products or even use the city as a homeport, which would drive commerce in terms of longshoremen jobs and suppliers. Previously, the city was just used as a port of call, where passengers could get off the ship and visit stores for a few hours, but minimal other support work for the ship would occur.

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