ROCKLAND, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage said he would like to see enough factories built in Maine so that all Maine lobsters that are to be processed can be handled within the state.
LePage addressed the status of the lobster industry Thursday morning during a speech and short question-and-answer period in the food tent at the Maine Lobster Festival.
“Frankly, I would like to be completely self-sufficient in processing lobsters caught in the ocean off the coast of Maine within the next three years,” LePage said.
He said his administration was working very hard to find people who would develop new processing plants in Maine, and outreach to businesses has included contact with Canadian firms about coming to Maine.
The state has added processing plants in the past year, he said. LePage also said he would like to see a large seafood freezer plant open in the Portland area as a way to help the seafood industry.
The governor said this was a challenge in part because the Legislature was anti-business, keeping taxes and energy costs high.
“The people who say we aren’t creating jobs are the same ones who are preventing it — the Legislature,” LePage said.
He said he would consider a bond issue that would include money to assist people who want to start seafood processing plants. He also would like to offer incentives to developers, but that would take cooperation from the Legislature.
The governor said the Maine lobster industry has been strengthened by attaining certification as a sustainable resource. The next step is to market those lobsters, an action that will be aided by a bill approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor in the past session that will raise nearly $3 million annually from the industry to pay for marketing.
Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston, who introduced the governor at Thursday’s event, cited the legislation as a major plus for the lobster industry. Kruger serves on the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee.
The money will be raised through increases in licensing fee surcharges for lobster fishermen, seafood wholesalers and processors.
“This is a big deal for Maine lobsterers. We never had real money to market Maine lobsters,” Kruger said. “This will help the local Maine economy.”
Later Thursday, Kruger disputed the governor’s contention that the Legislature has been anti-business. He said the administration has yet to release bond money approved by Maine voters in 2010 that would spur job creation. He also cited bills supported by the Legislature for job training and for energy reform.
LePage said that lobsters are a mainstay of the state’s economy, particularly along the midcoast. The value of lobsters landed in Maine in 2012 was $331 million.
“Not only is lobster a great dish but it has the reputation of coming from a very hardworking, hardy, industrious people. Fishermen of Maine are the epitome of hardworking and true independent Mainers,” he said.
LePage said the state is sending every governor in the United States a lobster in an effort to encourage them to have their residents consume the state’s premier seafood.
The governor said he is urging Canadian officials to seek sustainable certification. Maine and Canada get their lobsters from neighboring waters and it is in both countries’ interests to make sure that the resource is protected for future generations, he said.