News Feature

Web exclusive, March 4, 2011
Stonington top lobster port in state, again

PDF Document
Historical local lobster landings data

Record-breaking lobster landings for 2010 are being tallied by Department of Marine Resource scientists in Maine. Preliminary reports show Stonington leading by port for the third consecutive year with staggering numbers.

The latest figure released by the DMR for Stonington is 13,785,437 pounds of lobster valued at $44,259,982. Add to that 165,389 pounds with a value of $569,140 landed in Deer Isle, and the Island totals are 13,950,826 pounds of lobster valued at $44,829,122 as of February 24.

Island landings represent 15 percent of the state total, which is 93,361,162 pounds valued at $308,706,785. The overall landings for 2010 have increased by more than 12 million pounds with an added value of $71 million more than 2009.

What this means for local fishermen, the fishing industry, the local economy and how the future of fishing takes shape is hard to measure.

Robin Alden, executive director of Penobscot East Resource Center and a former DMR commissioner said, “We all knew it was a good year but this increase is stunning. The Island caught 51 percent more lobster this year than last and the price was better. We caught over 4.5 million pounds more than last year, which was at record levels, and this catch brought in $18.5 million additional into the Island economy, more than a 70 percent increase. You can’t put $18.5 million dollars into a small economy like this without feeling the benefit.”

In 1950, DMR and National Marine Fisheries Service began recording lobster landings by pound and value. In 2002 and 2003, the DMR increased pressure on local dealers to collect more accurate and specific data voluntarily. In 2004, lobster dealers were mandated to report information obtained from the harvesters selling directly to them.

According to the DMR, there are 5,915 commercial lobster license holders in Maine. Of those, 4,260 are active, with 1,655 inactive. In Zone C (of which Stonington and Deer Isle are a part) there are 364 commercial lobster license holders, and records indicate most of the lobster landed in Stonington can be attributed to them. Many fishermen only fish a five-month season, from June to November, while others fish well into winter both inshore and offshore.

Alden explained, “The lobster is one of the best managed fisheries anywhere in the world. The combination of limits to the scale of individual operations (owner operator and zones) and habitat protection (traps only) and ecologically sound measures such as protecting breeders, juveniles and letting lobsters grow to reproductive size (large and small size limits, vents, v-notch) protect this fishery to be as good as it can be in any given year.”

With an average price to the boat per pound being $3.30 in 2010, this is only a slight increase over 2009’s average of $2.93, below 2008’s $3.50, and under 2007’s $4.39 by over a dollar. Does the sheer volume of landings make up for loss in value and increased expenses?

For example, in 2009, Maine landings increased from 2008 by 11,287,875, but, based on its value per pound, a loss of $7,139,039 was shared amongst commercial lobster harvesters. The average price per pound to the boat was a dismal $2.93.

In 2008, an increase of 7,405,273 pounds landed over 2007’s total catch saw value decrease by $29,760,437, with the price to the boat down $.89 to $3.50 per pound.

The loss or increase in value in the DMR reports reflect specific amounts that are included in calculations of the average price paid to the boat per pound. The actual profit or loss for dealers, processors, employees, and communities impacted by the economics is difficult to document, yet readily felt.

While it is nearly impossible to pin a fisherman down to exact figures, some say there have been better years with comparatively higher profits made. One local fisherman said when he compares the price to the boat, licensing and trap-tag fee increases, cost for bait, and fuel cost increases, the additional landings don’t necessarily reflect a significant profit.

With economic downturn of the last few years in the lobster industry, and fishermen claiming to just now be catching up, some say they are hoping the new DMR commissioner will push to diversify the stocks harvested. Some fear the high landings will encourage “effort reduction.”

Alden said she doubts effort reduction will be an issue in the near future, “When there is so much more money than ever before coming into town from one fishery, it’s wonderful and it also makes people nervous. The one thing anyone who has fished, or been a fisherman’s wife, knows is that things never stay the same. Either the resource changes, the price changes, or costs change. The price of fuel and bait are both rising, and we know it. The abundance of lobster probably can’t get much better than this. So, we need to both work on what we can change, and prepare to adjust to what we can’t change.”

As far as marketing to increase price per pound, Alden said, “The Stonington Lobster Working Group is working on just this—how can we get more money, in Stonington, for the product we land. There is a lot to this. The SLWG report that explains the group’s findings so far is available at Penobscot East or the town office. One good avenue is improving lobster handling. Lobsters that die in the market chain after they leave here reduce the overall price paid. Estimates are that it would be possible to improve that by 10 to 15 percent by handling lobsters better on board and on the dock. We do pretty well in Stonington with that, but paying attention to handling could pay off.”

Trailing Stonington in highest port landings in Maine are Vinalhaven, with 5,826,014 pounds valued at $18,922,574; Spruce Head, with 3,555,223 pounds valued at $10,169,360; Friendship with 3,456,251 pounds valued at $11,688,879; and Beals with 3,418,648 pounds valued at $10,711,751.