May 27, 2018
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Would you prefer a Democratic or Republican lobster roll?

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Lobstermen take a break while doing maintenance work, Thursday, August 9, 2012, in Portland. Plentiful lobsters this season has depressed the prices that lobstermen have been getting, to below $3 a pound. In recent weeks Maine lobstermen stayed off the water for several days to try to let the market rebound.

We tend to cringe when we hear politicians tell the general public to buy something. When elected officials endorse a certain product it can create the perception they are paying special favors.

But we would have a hard time criticizing the Maine Republicans and Democrats who are urging anyone listening to buy lobster. That’s because their intentions are good, and they are elevating an issue of significant importance to the entire state.

Let’s be clear, though. Asking people to buy more lobster is a short-term response. If politicians are serious about generating more demand to meet Maine’s potentially record-breaking supply, they must work with local fishermen and dealers to find long-term solutions through much more marketing, developing more specialty products or possibly opening or expanding more processing facilities in the state.

Still, keeping the lobster glut issue a high-profile one may only help spark people’s interest in purchasing the crustaceans. The New York Times outlined the problem in an article on July 28, and American Public Media spotlighted it on Aug. 10. Many news organizations covered the story of Canadian lobstermen blocking truckloads of Maine lobster from being delivered to processing plants in Canada that make products such as frozen lobster meat.

Adding to the national coverage, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, sent a letter to the head of every large cruise ship company visiting Portland this year and asked them to buy Maine lobster for their thousands of passengers while they’re in port (even though the cruise ships may have already arranged their food contracts). And at the end of his weekly radio address on Saturday, Republican Gov. Paul LePage said, “Enjoy your weekend, and go buy some lobster.”

Rep. Walter Kumiega, of Deer Isle, gave the Democratic weekly radio address and, though he didn’t tell people to buy the crustaceans, made it clear that supply is outpacing demand. On top of the address, Democrats are holding lobster bakes this Saturday on the Damariscotta River and Sunday in Freeport.

Usually the radio addresses from each party are duel-like, but this week they were rather similar. Kumiega said Maine should be working to facilitate more lobster processing plants, possibly through tax incentives. He called for increasing marketing worldwide, in addition to research and development bonds to help find smarter ways to ship and process lobster.

LePage agreed that Maine, not Canada, should be processing its lobster. To improve the situation, he called for a well-educated workforce, infrastructure able to support commerce, reduction in red tape and incentives to attract businesses such as lobster processors.

We hope Maine’s political leaders realize there are more similarities than differences in their ideas and that they move beyond party ideologies — and publicly asking people to purchase more lobster — and get to work setting up a plan for future lobster harvests.

The state is facing a good problem: The large number of landings presents a possibility for economic development. It’s just not a problem Mainers alone can eat their way through. The state’s delicious protein needs to find more mouths in an expanded market.

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