ROCKPORT — Maine lobstermen spent much of 2019 crying into their beer over a poor catch but by the end of the year, if they were crying at all, it was into a glass of Champagne.
According to the Department of Marine Resources, last year Maine’s lobster harvesters landed 100,725,013 pounds of the iconic crustacean, marking the ninth year in a row, and just the ninth year ever, that landings topped 100 million pounds. Despite a 17 percent decline in pounds landed from 2018, and notwithstanding the Trump administration’s trade wars, the value of the catch topped $485 million. That made 2019 the fourth most lucrative in history for the lobster fishery as a result of a 20 percent increase in average price per pound paid to fishermen.
“A lot of lobstermen made a lot of money last year,” DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said during a break at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum at the Samoset Resort in Rockport.
Last year wasn’t good just for the lobster industry. According to figures released by DMR on Thursday morning, at $673,910,558, Maine’s 2019 commercial fisheries landings were the second most valuable since the state began keeping records. That total represented an increase of more than $26 million over 2018’s landings.
The price of elvers again topped $2,000 per pound and the $20,119,194 value of landings ranked the tiny juvenile eels as the second most valuable species harvested in Maine in 2019 and once again by far the most valuable on a per-pound basis.
Harvesters raked in an additional 623,000 pounds of softshell clams compared to 2018, generating a landed value of more than $18 million paid to harvesters and making the tasty bivalves Maine’s third most valuable species. The increase resulted from both higher landings and a 30 percent increase in the average price, which jumped from $1.80 per pound in 2018 to $2.34 per pound in 2019.
Oysters, virtually all of them farmed, were the state’s fourth most valuable species, with landings of 3.2 million pounds. That marked an increase of 460,911 pounds over 2018, worth some $7,622,441, a jump in value of $336,334.
“Even with a slow start last year, Maine’s lobster industry ended the year strong, with landings picking up significantly in the last few months,” Keliher said in the DMR statement announcing the landings figures. “There are many factors in the marine environment that impact landings. Last year the cold spring caused a delay in the molt which is when lobsters shed their shells and the bulk of the harvest occurs. Fishermen held off until the shed happened, so fishing was slow early but picked up later in the year.”
According to the most recent data published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, American lobster was the most valuable single species harvested in the United States in every year from 2015 to 2018, with Maine landings accounting for approximately 80 percent of that value each year.
The fifth and sixth most valuable fisheries in Maine, respectively, were blood worms, used as bait for species such as striped bass, valued at $6,283,315, and urchins, worth $5,835,917.