TRENTON — Lobster 207, the wholesale and retail cooperative owned by the Maine Lobstering Union, can now market its lobsters with the trademarked “Fair Trade” seal after certification by the nonprofit Fair Trade USA.
Based on compliance with the organization’s extensive, 105-page Capture Fisheries Standard, the certification confirms that lobstermen selling their catch to the co-op, and the co-op itself, have met the rigorous standards set by Fair Trade for environmental stewardship, social responsibility and fair labor practices. According to a statement released by Lobster 207, more than 4,500 fishermen around the world have been certified under the Fair Trade Capture Fisheries Standard. Lobster 207 represents the only group of lobstermen worldwide who have received the certification.
The Fair Trade certification can have significant benefits for marketers. Among them, Lobster 207’s catch may be sold with the “Fair Trade Premium” that allows a percentage of the sale proceeds to be returned to the lobstermen’s community.
“With our Fair Trade Premium, a portion of every pound of Fair Trade lobster sold will go into a community development fund,” Mike Yohe, CEO of Lobster 207, said in a statement. “This money will go right back into our communities to improve the livelihoods of our lobstermen and their families.”
According to Rui Bing Zheng, senior producer services manager for Fair Trade USA, “fishermen have earned over $1 million in community development funds on top of the price of their catch” since the Fair Trade seafood program began. Those funds have been “reinvested back into local communities through environmental programs, improvements to schools and local centers, and other projects that directly address community needs,” he said.
Nationally, more than 20 retail companies purchase and promote Fair Trade-certified seafood products including Whole Foods Market and Safeway. In Maine, a Lobster 207 spokesman said, lobster distributors that work directly with the co-op believe the Fair Trade certification will boost the already strong brand of Maine lobster and will bring a premium for some buyers.
However significant the Fair Trade certification may be from a marketing standpoint, there appears to be nothing to distinguish lobsters sold by the union-owned co-op from those sold by any other licensed seller of Maine lobster. Whether purchased from Lobster 207, the Winter Harbor Lobster Co-op, the Beals-Jonesport Co-op or, indeed, the high-end retailer Harbor Fish Market in Portland, all lobsters harvested by Maine lobstermen are caught and handled using substantially the same methods and subject to identical environmental and conservation-oriented controls.
Fair Trade USA is a nonprofit organization and one of the principal certifiers of fair trade products in North America. Fair Trade USA’s model is to empower farmers, workers and fishermen, primarily in less developed countries, to fight poverty and earn additional money to improve their communities.