Low Cost Of Maine Lobster Sinks Profits

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A lobster is measured to determine whether it is of legal size on a boat off Cundy's Harbor, Maine.

A lobster is measured to determine whether it is of legal size on a boat off Cundy's Harbor, Maine. Pat Wellenbach/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Pat Wellenbach/AP

Just after dawn, Brad Parady of Kittery, Maine, is on his boat, preparing for a long day at sea. For 30 years now, he has made a living lobstering.

At first glance, it seems as though times should be good. Maine's industry is thriving, with over 75 million pounds of lobster caught last year. But over the past few years, the price at the docks has dropped.

These days, Parady gets about $3.25 per pound. That's significantly less than what he got last year, when the price at the docks hit an 11-year low.

Lobsterman Jim Dow, vice president of the Maine Lobster Association, says lobstermen are now in "survival mode."

"They've been pushing their engines to the max. Our engines are starting to blow," Dow said. "I know there's been a lot up and down the coast of new engines and rebuilds this spring."

While lobstermen may be scrambling to survive, the lobsters are not. The population off the coast of Maine has been on the rise. Some thank the overfishing of lobster predators, like cod.

David Etnier, deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, says it's also due to the number of people who are allowed to catch lobster.

"Of course, there are trap limits as well," Etnier said. "Maine has an 800-trap limit, by and large, coast-wide. All of those measures combined, plus a few others, have helped keep this resource in a healthy condition, despite really an enormous amount of pressure."

But for Brad Parady, the catch isn't coming fast enough.

"See how that's got a little tiny nick in it?" he says, pointing to a lobster. "Means we have to throw it back. If it carries eggs, we have to notch this one flipper. She'll lay eggs again."

As lobstermen continue to troll the waters off the coast, the competitive nature of the industry sets in. A few miles from Kittery, Parady idles through an area of water that lobstermen call "the jungle." It's crowded with buoys. Parady hauls up a line that should bring up a trap, but there's nothing there.

"Somebody got into it and cut it off," Parady notes. "Someone might have anchored into it and cut it off."

This time of year, there is quite a bit of deliberate cutting, Parady says.

"The guys get all stressed out and start cutting each other off," he says.

While there are bargains at the docks, customers and lobstermen alike may not notice the same drop in prices at grocery stores or restaurants.

Michael Gardner, president of Gardner Pinfold Consulting in Halifax, Nova Scotia, says restaurants have kept their prices high.

"They don't want to reduce their prices, because that establishes a lower reference point in the minds of consumers, and then they expect to see lobster and other luxury goods at those low prices," Gardner says.

But lobstermen like Parady aren't complaining about seeing more people eating the crustacean at its lower price. After all, the more people who develop a taste for lobster, the better their business.

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