There’s nothing like a little compare and contrast to further understanding. At last week’s Maine Fishermen’s Forum in Rockport, lobstermen from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the Australian states of West Australia and Tasmania talked about their gear, boats, ports and, of course, their catch, as dozens of their Maine counterparts watched and listened.
The fishermen also shared more vital information, such as the regulations they must follow, the number of vessels in the fishery, annual landings and price per pound.
When a lobsterman from West Australia reported that for a brief time, lobster was fetching $120 per pound there, a Maine fisherman could be heard exclaiming, “Holy —!”
Though there weren’t many such “holy” moments, there were some eye-openers for Maine fishermen. Chief among them is that Maine’s lobster fishery is generally less regulated than the six other fisheries. A close second in the lesson list for fishermen is to focus on the right goal. As a lobster fisherman from West Australia said, “It’s not about catching kilos; it’s about making money.”
In West Australia, the take limit is set three years in advance, based on an annual survey of immature fish. The West Australian state has 650 lobster licenses and 290 vessels, with the most recent annual catch at 17 million pounds. A lot of fishermen have exited the business in recent years, the West Australian fisherman, Chris Beissel said. “It’s working quite well,” he said, though the transition to fewer fishermen was the source of “a lot of grief.”
A recent survey of juvenile lobster resulted in traps being cut by 30 percent. Fishermen have 60 to 200 traps in the water. Still, there is money to be made. Australian lobster is sold primarily in Asia. The West Australian fishing season runs from November to June, with fishing allowed just four days a week. Since that is the summer season in the Southern Hemisphere, Asians are paying top price for lobster during their winter.
A fisherman from Nova Scotia reported there are 987 licensed boats in the province’s fishery, and fishermen are limited to 375 traps per license. In Prince Edward Island, 1,300 licenses are issued and fishermen are limited to 300 traps.
Maine fishermen could reasonably conclude that limiting the catch, though painful in the short term, would lead to sustained prosperity.
A short film shown before the forum, titled “Know Your Market,” depicted a Maine lobsterman preparing and serving six lobster dinners around his empty dining room table. Through the course of the preparation, his answering machine fields a call from a summer customer now at home in Con-necticut, craving Maine lobster; another call from a Canadian lobster processing firm looking for supply; another from a local restaurant. The point is that Maine fishermen should reach out and connect with their customers.
The reports from around the world revealed one thing for which we should be proud — Maine lobster is still the gold standard. If the industry works together, that lobster may someday sell for something like gold prices.