Warm, calm December no gift for lobster dealers

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — The unusually fair weather for most of December has some Maine lobster dealers sweating.

Usually by the week before Christmas, most of Maine’s lobster fishermen have hauled their gear onto the bank and cold, stormy weather has kept those who are still fishing mostly in the harbor.

Not this year.

According to one Maine lobster buyer, the weather through the end of last week has been so mild that he expects that this year the state will see record lobster landings for the month of December. With a week to go before Christmas, the dealer said, the weather had already allowed a record number of fishing days for December.

High landings apparently have not reduced the boat price, at least in the Mount Desert Island area. As of last week, the boat price was still $4.40 around Southwest Harbor at a time when Canadian lobsters were available on the U.S. market for “under $5” per pound.

And there is no shortage of Canadian lobsters.

Unlike Maine, where lobster fishing is permitted year-round, Canada sets distinct fishing seasons for some 41 geographic areas. In Southwest Nova Scotia, just across the Bay of Fundy, the season opened Dec. 1 and, from all reports, the lobstering has been spectacular.

On Nova Scotia, a lobster buyer with 35 years in the business told the Kings County Advertiser Register, a Nova Scotia newspaper, that he had never before seen a season like the current one.

Landings are high and, just as in Maine, fishermen have enjoyed extraordinarily placid weather. The reported boat price of $6.25 (Canadian) is good for Nova Scotia fishermen, but at the current conversion rate (the Canadian dollar is worth about 71 cents U.S.) the price is about the same as it is in Maine.

“Huge volume, good weather and the weak Canadian dollar,” said Hugh Reynolds, president of Greenhead Lobster Co. in Stonington. “The (Canadian) export market has been very strong into the U.S. It’s had a big impact on shipping for Christmas.”

Canada isn’t the only foreign country causing problems for Maine lobster dealers.

Turmoil in the vast, and largely publicly financed, Chinese fishing industry is having an impact in Hancock County.

Greenhead Lobster is one of the largest exporters of Maine lobster into the Chinese market. According to Reynolds, “they’ve definitely got some problems over there.” As a consequence, he said, “we’re going down, way down, over there,” with Greenhead’s fourth quarter exports to China off by more than 50 percent from the same period last year.

Although January and February usually are the months with the lowest lobster landings in Maine, the difference between the landings in November — historically the last month of the fall run of lobsters as they move offshore into deep water and the a month when fishing is usually possible most days — and landings in December is marked.

Last year, according to the Department of Marine Resources, when Maine lobster landings set an annual record, landings in December — about 5.5 million pounds — were less than half the November total.

The same has been true for every year since at least 2004. In some years during that decade, the December landings were one-third of those in November or less.

As of Monday, there was no sign that the good weather was on the way out.

In Stonington, Reynolds said, “It’s blowing southwest and 50 degrees.”

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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