ROCKPORT, Maine (AP) — Fishers of Maine’s lobster, one of the most lucrative fish species in the U.S., saw a smaller catch in a year when the industry faced rising fuel and bait prices, reprimands from major retailers and the looming possibility of new fishing restrictions.
Maine lobster has exploded in value in recent years, partly due to growing international demand from countries like China. The industry brought about 98 million pounds of lobster to the port in 2022, worth about $389 million, Maine regulators said Friday. That was more than 11% less than the previous year, in which they harvested more than 110 million pounds of lobster worth more than $740 million.
Lobster values also fell to just under $4 a pound at the port, the lowest since 2017, a year after setting a record of more than $6.70 in 2021.
The industry has seen growth in recent years as fishermen have caught more than 96 million pounds of lobster per year for 13 years in a row, having never reached that goal before. But it also faces threats, such as proposed rules to protect rare North Atlantic right whales, which are vulnerable to entanglement in fishing gear.
Last year was a “really stable season” for the most part, but the high price of doing business and the reduced price per pound for lobsters were challenges, said John Tripp, a fisherman from St. George.
“It gets pretty expensive to do what we do,” Tripp said.
Last year’s lower price for anglers did not necessarily translate into lower prices for consumers, as lobsters remain a premium seafood product. Fishermen are typically paid $4 to $5 per pound for their catch, while retailers often charge consumers more than double.
The potential threats to the industry include the warming of the Gulf of Maine, an important fishing area off the coast of New England. According to scientists, the wave experienced its second warmest year on record last year.
“The lobster fishers in Maine last year faced tremendous uncertainty about their future because of pending federal whaling regulations, compounded by the high cost of bait and fuel,” said Maine Governor Janet Mills, a Democrat. “Yet they still brought in nearly 100 million pounds of high-quality Maine lobster, reflecting the resilience of this industry when faced with a tough and dynamic economic environment.”
The lobster fishery has also lost a number of customers in the wake of sustainability organizations suspending their industry certifications over concerns about threats to whales. Retailers, including Whole Foods, said they would stop selling Maine lobster after the groups, Maine Stewardship Council and Seafood Watch, withdrew the certifications.
Some scientists and conservationists have called on government agencies to more urgently address the threat to whales. The whales are also vulnerable to collisions with large ships.
“With fewer than 350 individuals remaining, and their numbers dwindling, North Atlantic right whales are facing extinction,” a group of conservationists, including Peter Corkeron, a former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist, wrote in a February issue of the journal. Science.
The vast majority of US lobsters make their way to ports in Maine, but some also make landfall in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and further south. Canadian fishermen also catch millions of pounds of the same species off the country’s eastern provinces.