TREMONT — Thurston’s lobster wharf owner Michael Radcliffe has a saying about when the annual shed will come for lobsters. The shed is when soft shells become available, the overall supply goes up, and the price goes down.
“The pat answer is, ‘I guess it’ll be a week or 10 days.’ You say that over and over again until it starts,” he said Tuesday. A week ago, fishermen selling at his wharf were only bringing in a handful of shedders. “Now we’re buying a significant amount each day,” he said. “August will be busy. Some of my best guys aren’t even fishing yet.”
Lobstermen who fish from Swans Island and the Cranberry Isles report about an even number of soft and hard shells in their traps this week.
“We’re still not seeing a lot of shedders, but percentage-wise, it’s changed over,” said Mark Nighman, manager of the Cranberry Isles Fishermen’s Coop. “Usually we’re in a funny pocket here. We’re historically about 10 days behind. On both sides of us, the shedder price will go down. I’ll have to say to fishermen here, ‘Okay guys, they’re catching them on both sides of us. Get ready.”
The shed, when lobsters molt and grow a new shell that takes time to harden, starts earliest where the water is warmest, scientist Kathleen Reardon of the Maine Department of Marine Resources said. “There’s more shedders in deep water than in shoal water. The warm water in deep patches throws off some people’s predictions.”
Researchers at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland predicted a late shed this year due to colder than average water temperatures in the spring.
“In 2012, unusually warm waters in the Gulf of Maine caused lobsters to migrate inshore and molt earlier than usual, which created a glut of lobsters on the market and deflation of prices [because distributors and processors were not prepared for so much product],” the research team wrote in an April statement. “Our goal is to enable the industry to be more prepared for the coming lobster season with advance notice of its expected timing.”
The report noted similarities with the 2005 season, when “lower supply and delayed supply “caused prices to be a bit higher. It’s hard to determine how these two effects might balance out in terms of annual revenue, especially since the number of participants in the fishery has increased since 2005.”