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Harvesters turn to direct sales to stay afloat

Lobster industry grapples with COVID-19 impact

By Stephen Betts | Mar 24, 2020

The ripple effect of the COVID-19 outbreak is currently felt across the lobster industry as markets shrink with the closure of restaurants and overseas flights.

But lobstermen are trying creative steps to keep a steady income by selling their catch directly to consumers in order to get a higher price.

At stake is an industry that paid more than $139 million to Knox County lobstermen last year.

Kristan Porter of Cutler, president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, said the COVID-19 outbreak and its resulting impact on businesses, has slowed down the market for lobsters.

Much of the lobsters went to restaurants which are now closed to inside dining although some are offering delivery and pick-up orders.

Porter pointed out that this is not the peak of the lobster season. The peak is July and August, he said.

When asked what the impact would be if the shutdown of businesses continued further into the season, the association president said lobstermen would cross that bridge if that occurs.

"We are concerned. We are in the same boat as every other business," he said.

Travis Doughty of Cushing is one of the lobsterman who hauls throughout the year. He said he turned to marketing his catch on Facebook and word of mouth in order to get a higher price per pound.

He said his last bill for bait was $2,100, noting he works 800 traps. And along with fuel, paying his crew and boat payments, he needs to get a higher price to make hauling financially feasible.

He said dealers are paying $3 per pound which is not enough to cover expenses. last year at this time, the price being paid was $7 to $10 per pound. He has been selling his catch through his direct marketing efforts for $4.50 a pound.

The fishing vessel Ruthless out of Port Clyde is advertising on Facebook that it will sell five lobsters for $20 or individually for $6.

Telephone calls were made to multiple local dealers but none answered the phone on Monday and Tuesday morning.

The 2019 lobster catch in Knox County totaled 27.1 million pounds worth $139.3 million.

Knox County was second only to Hancock County where lobstermen hauled in $31.6 million pounds worth $152.3 million. Lincoln County's haul was 5.2 million pounds valued at $26.3 million.

The town of Stonington in Hancock County was the top port for at least the fifth consecutive year in terms of seafood value on their docks. The Stonington harvest in 2019 was valued at nearly $51 million.

Vinalhaven came in second for at least the fifth consecutive year with a value of nearly $40 million. Friendship was fourth for the second straight year at more than $24 million. Spruce Head was sixth at $18.6 million. Owls Head was the 10th highest port with its catch valued at $13 million.

Rockland dropped out of the top 10 ports in 2019. In 2018, Rockland was eighth at $13 million. And in each of the three previous years, Rockland had been fifth in Maine ports for value of seafood landed.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Mar 24, 2020 13:41

Could the Rockland drop be caused by too many tourists' boats crowding the harbor?  Hope everyone stays safe with this Corona scare!

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