BAR HARBOR — Old frustrations between lobstermen and dealers have been stirred by the debate about whether to renew a lobster marketing effort, but fishermen here decided they support continuing the marketing project.
The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative (MLMC), launched by the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) after a 2012 price crash, is set to sunset next year unless the Legislature acts to renew the program.
The DMR Lobster Zone B council, meeting last week in the Mount Desert Island High School library, voted to support renewing the marketing program.
Very little data is available about the Maine lobster supply chain, said collaborative Director Matt Jacobson, and no dealer reporting was mandated as part of the marketing legislation.
There are 315 lobster dealers in the state, he said. “When I asked them where they’re selling, they looked at their shoes.”
In some sense, that means the marketers are flying blind. So the collaborative has focused on reaching out to top chefs, Jacobson said at the meeting, and raising awareness about “new shell” Maine lobster available in the summer.
“Lobster is the only thing that comes through most of these restaurant kitchens that is still alive,” he said.
Jim Dow of Bass Harbor and Jason Joyce of Swans Island have joined MLMC trips to New York and San Francisco to meet with chefs.
“There’s not one person who tasted new shell and hard shell who didn’t notice the difference,” Dow said.
Final numbers for lobster landings in 2017 will not be available for several more months, but Jacobson said he didn’t think the perceived drop was very dramatic.
He cited factors outside of the group’s control for the year’s lower boat prices, including hurricanes in Texas and Florida that closed restaurants and tourist communities for several weeks. Changes in international trade agreements, such as CETA between Canada and the EU, also cost the Maine lobster industry some customers, he said.
The MLMC is funded by fees charged on dealer and harvester licenses, with a total annual budget of $2,250,000 this year. Of that, Jacobson’s salary is $110,000, he said. The group’s enabling legislation requires reports to the zone councils, the DMR Advisory Council and the legislature’s Marine Resources Committee.
“Other industries are forced to pay a percentage for marketing as well,” Bar Harbor fisherman Jon Carter said. “For what we generate, we pay very little.”