Thanks to a 23 percent increase in the value of the country’s 2014 total lobster landings, Maine for the first time is the second most lucrative state for commercial marine fisheries, ranking only behind Alaska, according to federal officials.
Maine, where 84 percent of all lobster caught nationwide was brought ashore last year, surpassed Massachusetts with help from a 75-cent increase in the national average price lobstermen earned for their catch, according to an annual report released Thursday by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Maine’s lobster fishery is by far the biggest in the state, contributing 78 percent of Maine’s total fisheries landings value for all species.
The national average price paid to fishermen for lobster increased from $3.08 in 2013 to $3.83 in 2014, federal officials indicated in the 2014 Fisheries of the United States report.
Overall, the dockside value of all commercial marine species harvested in Maine last year was $548 million, while landings in Massachusetts were worth $525 million. In 2013, Massachusetts’ landings were worth $567 million, and Maine landings were valued at $474 million.
David Cousens, president of Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said Friday that Maine’s elevated ranking reflects the benefit of conservation measures that lobstermen in the state have implemented over the past several decades. Fishermen in Maine were the first in the country to return reproductive females back to the ocean and to adopt minimum and maximum sizes for lobsters in their traps that they can keep, he said.
“That’s great news,” he said about Maine’s higher national ranking and increased fisheries value.
The most recent year Maine’s fisheries landings value exceeded that of Massachusetts was in 1999, when Maine fishermen harvested $265 million worth of seafood and their counterparts from the Bay State caught $260 million worth. Maine was ranked third among states that year behind Alaska and Louisiana.
The overall value of the nearly 148 million pounds of lobster harvested in the U.S. in 2014 was $566 million, according to the report. Of that amount, 124 million pounds with an estimated total dockside value of $458 million was harvested in Maine.
Cousens noted that the quantity of lobster landings in Maine actually decreased last year, from 128 million pounds in 2013 to 124 million pounds. It was a leap in price that Maine lobstermen were paid for their catch, from a statewide average of $2.90 in 2013 to $3.69 last year, that pushed the value of Maine’s lobster landings up by $87 million, according to Maine Department of Marine Resources statistics.
Cousens added that he expects the value of Maine’s lobster fishery to be even higher for 2015. He said that he and other fishermen have been getting more than $4 per pound for their catch throughout the summer and fall. If that price holds up for the entire calendar year, it will be the first time Maine lobstermen have earned an average of more than $4 per pound since 2007 — before the recession hit.
“I would guess we’re going to have between $520 million and $530 million worth of lobsters landings this year,” Cousens said.
Alaska has long led the country in overall dockside fisheries value because of its highly productive crab fisheries. Alaska fishermen caught $1.71 billion worth of marine species in 2014, down from $1.87 billion in 2013.
Maine had been ranked directly behind Massachusetts for 14 straight years, according to federal fisheries data. From 1995 to 2003, Maine and Massachusetts each had a total dockside fisheries value less than Louisiana, which fell from second place to fourth in 2004, when it was surpassed by the two New England states.
The report also ranks individual ports, both for volume and dockside value of landings for all fisheries, which in Maine include lobster, softshell clams, scallops and groundfish, to name a few.
Stonington, which has a large lobstering community, was the highest ranked Maine port in terms of value, placing 18th nationwide with $60 million in landings. In 2013, the Hancock County port had the 21st highest fishery landings value in the country at $49 million.
The island port of Vinalhaven ranked 34th nationwide in value last year with landings for all fisheries worth $36 million while Portland ranked 40th at $32 million.
Portland was the top Maine port in terms of volume with 57 million pounds of multiple species — a decrease of 5 million pounds from 2013 — for a U.S. rank of 25th. Rockland placed 29th at 41 million pounds, and Stonington came in 37th with 25 million pounds.
Dutch Harbor, Alaska, held onto its top spot in terms of volume with 762 million pounds of multiple species offloaded in 2014. New Bedford, Massachusetts, led all ports in value for the 15th year in a row with $329 million of marine species harvested.
According to the report, New Bedford’s landings value is because of the scallop fishery, which accounts for 76 percent of the port’s fisheries revenue. Nationwide sea scallop landings decreased in volume by more than 7 million pounds from 2013, when nearly 41 million pounds were harvested in the U.S., but the national average price continued to rise, from $11.41 per pound to $12.55 in 2014.
In 2014, Maine fishermen harvested only 584,000 of scallop meat, versus 33.8 million pounds harvested nationwide, but on average earned a record price of $12.78 per pound for their catch, according to DMR statistics. The overall dockside value of Maine’s scallop fishery in 2014 was worth $7.46 million, its highest value since 1993 but nonetheless much less valuable than Maine’s $458 million lobster fishery.
In addition to lobster, Maine also was the nation’s top producer of softshell clams, with nearly 2.1 million pounds of clam meat valued at about $20 million harvested in the state last year.