PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s lobster industry, struggling this summer under a glut of product, will receive some help from the cruise ships that dock in Portland and Bar Harbor.
Celebrity Cruises pledged Wednesday morning to buy approximately 3,800 pounds of Maine lobster when its cruise ship, Celebrity Summit, visits Portland and Bar Harbor in September and October, according to Willy Ritch, spokesman for Rep. Chellie Pingree. The Celebrity Summit carries more than 2,000 passengers.
At least one other cruise ship company is talking to local distributors about the prospect of buying fresh lobster when their ships make port, according to Ritch.
On Aug. 13, Rep. Pingree sent a letter to the CEO of every company that owns a cruise ship visiting Maine this year, asking them to consider buying fresh Maine lobster for their passengers while they are in port. “Maine lobstermen are in the middle of a record-breaking season,” she wrote. “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 her letter, Rep. Pingree directed cruise ship companies interested in taking her up on the offer to contact Dane Somers, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, who would facilitate a connection with lobster distributors who could provide the cruise ships with the lobster.
Somers told the Bangor Daily News he has fielded a few inquiries from companies, and said he expects other companies will make pledges similar to Celebrity’s.
The cruise ship industry traditionally has been a big buyer of lobster, but usually it’s bought frozen from processors and in bulk, Somers said. Cruise ships pledging to buy fresh, local lobster is a rarity driven by the attraction of this summer’s low prices, he said. “It’s not very common for them to buy local goods of any sort,” he said. “It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s about locking in bulk prices.”
Because of the significant logistical challenges cruise ships face in stocking everything needed for a cruise, Somers said the larger ships that carry more than 4,000 passengers are less likely to have the flexibility to buy local lobster when they visit Maine.
Even a few thousand pounds of lobster sold is “significant” to an individual distributor, Somers said. Maine lobstermen are expected to harvest between 12 million and 13 million pounds of lobster in August alone, Somers said. “It’s hard for people even in the industry to get a handle on that volume of lobster,” he said.
Rep. Pingree’s letter was a response to a glut of lobster in Maine, which has driven the boat price of lobster — the price lobstermen get for their catch from distributors — down to between $2 and $2.50 a pound, its lowest level in decades. It has put strain on the lobster industry, and caused lobstermen in Connecticut and New Brunswick to complain that Maine lobstermen were undercutting them.
Pingree isn’t shy about using her position to make things happen. “This could be a big untapped market for wholesalers in the area,” Pingree said in a statement. “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.”
According to Pingree, Portland can expect 59 cruise ship visits this summer and fall — carrying more than 69,000 passengers. In September and October, Bar Harbor has 32 cruise ship visits scheduled, according to the town’s schedule.
In an effort independent of Pingree’s, a team of individuals in Bar Harbor earlier this month were able to convince Holland America Line to pledge to buy 2,000 pounds of fresh lobster the next time its ship, the Maasdam, calls at that port, which it did over the course of two stops on Aug. 17 and 19, according to Amy Powers, director of Cruise Maine. Powers couldn’t say whether the Maasdam, which carries more than 1,200 passengers and is scheduled to dock in Bar Harbor seven more times through the end of October, will buy more on its next visit.