The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Saturday was national lobster day. A day to celebrate the tasty crustacean from … New Hampshire?
Maggie Hassan, a U.S. senator from New Hampshire, may not have intended to troll Mainers with a tweet touting her state’s lobster catch, but it sure left a lot of Pine Staters steamed, shall we say.
“Happy National Lobster Day, New Hampshire. Granite Staters know that we’re home to the best lobster in the country!” Hassan said in a tweet on Saturday morning.
“You give a state two beaches and 36 inches of coastline and they start talking reckless,” Maine rapper Spose tweeted in response.
That’s a bit of exaggeration, but you get the point.
New Hampshire has 18 miles of coastline compared to Maine’s 3,500 miles — if you count the shores around all our islands and inlets and about 228 miles if you don’t. So, it’s no surprise that far more lobster are caught off the coast of Maine than New Hampshire. According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about 119 million pounds of American lobster were caught in 2020. Of that, 97 million pounds were caught by Maine fishermen. Less than 5 million pounds were landed in New Hampshire.
Of course, quantity isn’t everything. Quality matters. Which is why lobster from Maine — not New Hampshire — is touted on restaurant menus around the world.
“Maine is considered the seafood capital state of the United States for those that like lobster. The entire state is respected as the place that you’ll find the best lobster in the country,” The Recipe declared in 2018.
Humor — and state pride — aside, the American lobster industry faces mounting challenges.
Predictions of a looming decline in the lobster catch, in part because of climate change and warming ocean waters, have been circulating for years, but the harvest remains strong in Maine. Although last year’s catch was the first one below 100 million pounds in a decade, it was lucrative, with prices among the highest in the past 10 years. Lobster roll prices in Maine were so high this summer, they got national attention.
Regulations aimed at protecting endangered North Atlantic right whales pose an immediate challenge.
Last month, federal regulators announced the closure of 950 square miles of ocean in the Gulf of Maine to traditional lobster fishing. The closure is slated to start this year from October through January, which is the most lucrative season.
For the majority of lobstermen, who fish closer to shore, the new rules require gear modifications to reduce the number of vertical lines in the ocean beginning in May 2022. This will require more traps between buoy lines and the use of weaker rope or clips on buoy lines so that a rope will break if a whale becomes entangled. Lobstermen worry that these changes will make it more dangerous to haul their traps. Complying with the rules could cost the fisheries up to $91 million over six years, according to the NOAA.
NOAA moved ahead with these rules despite inadequate information to show that lobstermen — let alone lobstermen in Maine — are responsible for right whale entanglements and deaths.
We understand that fishermen — in many states and Canada — along with the shipping industry, must do more to protect right whales. But, it is unclear that such a large burden should fall on Maine’s lobstermen who, despite what you might hear from our New Hampshire neighbors, haul in the best lobster in the country.