ROCKPORT — Long faces were notably absent at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum last weekend, especially after Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher announced Friday morning that Maine’s commercial fisheries harvest topped $700 million last year.
Keliher also noted that Maine lobstermen landed more than 131 million pounds of the state’s signature crustacean, with landings worth more than $533 million.
Keliher reported the numbers at the Maine Lobstermen’s Association’s annual meeting just before the DMR released the numbers to the public.
“No one’s crying,” MLA President David Cousens said after the meeting, sporting a big smile.
He and the rest of Maine’s commercial harvesters had plenty to smile about. According to preliminary data from the DMR, the landings total reflects another all-time high and an increase of nearly $100 million in value over 2015.
“Mainers should take great pride in the success of our commercial fishing industry,” Gov. Paul R. LePage said in response to the announcement. “The hardworking men and women who fish for a living along our coast have established Maine as a leader in the responsible management and harvest of seafood.”
For the second straight year, the largest single increase in value was in Maine’s lobster fishery. The landed value jumped by more than $30 million while, at $4.07 per pound, the average boat price remained above $4 for the second year in a row.
The overall value of Maine’s lobster fishery was again the highest by far at $533,094,366. Including bonuses paid to harvesters reported by 14 of the state’s 19 lobster co-ops, the overall landed value of Maine’s lobster fishery reached $547,249,010.
“That’s still about $10 million to $20 million short,” Keliher told a packed meeting. The difference represents DMR’s estimate of the as yet unreported bonus payments.
As another milestone, 2016 marked the first time that Maine lobster harvesters landed more than 130 million pounds, with a total of 130,844,773 pounds crossing the docks last year. It also was the fifth year in a row in which Maine lobster harvesters landed more than 120 million pounds.
“The historic landings reflect the hard work of our harvesters to build and sustain this fishery,” Keliher said.
Despite the bait shortage that plagued the lobster fishery last year, Atlantic herring was the state’s second most valuable fishery at $19,019,337. The primary bait for Maine’s lobster industry saw an increase in value of more than $5 million despite a nearly 11 percent decline in landings.
“Overall herring landings declined in 2016 as a result of a lack of fish offshore, resulting in demand that far surpassed supply,” Keliher said.
Maine’s softshell clam industry dropped from second place in 2015 to third in 2016 with an overall value of $15,656,386. The decline reflects a 13.4 percent drop in the price per pound that harvesters received, as well as a 20 percent decline in pounds landed.
“One significant factor that contributed to the decline in softshell clam landings was a closure of harvest areas between the Canadian border and Mount Desert Island associated with amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP) late in the season,” said Kohl Kanwit, director of the DMR Bureau of Public Health.
While the closure was minimized as much as possible through rigorous testing, many areas were closed for two to four weeks.
Maine’s elver fishery was again, by far, the most lucrative commercial fishery on a per-pound basis — $1,430.51 a pound on average. Maine harvesters netted 9,400 of the 9,688 available pounds of quota for an overall value of $13,446,828, an increase of more than $2 million from the previous year. The overall value ranked the elver fishery as Maine’s fourth highest.
“While we can take this moment to celebrate the great value of Maine’s marine resources, we cannot lose site of the signs of change,” Keliher said. “The agency and the industry must work to not only safeguard our iconic lobster fishery but also to work together on solutions that ensure the health and resiliency of all Maine fisheries.”