Lobstermen are working to divert more Maine lobsters from their conventional fate: a pot of boiling water followed by a bath of lemon and butter. Some Maine lobstermen are catching the lobsters and selling them as prepared food to upscale markets. They hope to redirect the state’s signature seafood into more gourmet pies, pizzas and bisques.
Lobstermen in Maine are shifting in the way that traditional lobster fishery operates as it struggles to dapt to a changing world and a changing economy.
In 2010, Maine’s 6,000 licensed lobstermen hauled in what is expected to be a record 100 million pounds of lobster. Only approximately 20 million pounds of it will be sold in New England. The goal is to keep the price of lobster up despite an increasing supply.
In Maine, lobstermen are allowed to own only one boat each. In other fisheries, such as groundfishing, individuals may amass entire fleets.
To keep profits up, Maine lobstermen must maximize their fishing time, spending 14 hours a day hauling traps, which leaves them little or no time to sell their product, so they have largely relegated the job to lobster dealers, who pay lobstermen at the wharf and then find retailers, restaurants and other markets.
Although most fishermen remain independent, approximately 20% have formed companies and cooperatives in recent years. These cooperatives operate a float and holding vessel along with bait business.
After the recession some coops have taken the business a step further to survive the rock-bottom prices they were getting from dealers as suddenly cost-conscious Americans lost their appetities for the high-end catch. By tapping into summer residents’ talent and business expertise, some coops came up with the idea of keeping control of their product from the trap to the freezer.
Some Maine lobster restaurants buy their lobsters from independent lobstermen then turn them into frozen claw packs, lobster bisque and other prepared foods that are currently in development.
These coops are offering cooked, prepared lobster that people can eat at home. Also, it is easier to ship prepared foods than live lobsters to places like Japan, China and other Asian markets, which the Maine lobster industry is trying to crack.
Source: Portlant Press Herald Feb 2011