Each February, Maine Department of Marine Resources releases its estimates for the amount of lobster caught in Maine the previous calendar year. For the first time ever, DMR believes that the annual lobster landings total in Maine exceeds 100,000,000 pounds. The total value of that catch, which was divided up roughly among 5,000 licensed commercial lobstermen, is $331.4 million.
Numbers can be arbitrary, but the fact that lobster landings continue to rise is of note. They don’t go up every year, but have consistently since 1989, when the total annual landings of Maine lobster was 23 million pounds. That was a record haul at the time.
The environmental impact of ever-increasing landings is unknown. Though there is no evidence the species is being overfished, it has caused some scientists to worry. As other commercially fished species have decreased in abundance (or even collapsed), lobster has become more and more dominant in the state’s fishing industry. Lobster accounts for nearly 80 percent of all commercial maritime fishing income in Maine. A significant, sudden decrease in the Gulf of Maine lobster population could have a dire impact on the state’s fishing industry and on the coastal and island communities that depend on lobster fishing for their livelihoods.
From an economic standpoint, increasing catches can be good but not as significant as the price fishermen are paid for their catch.
In 2007, lobstermen earned on average $4.39 for every pound of lobster they brought ashore. The following year, when the economy tanked, their average pay-per-pound slipped below $4 for the first time since 2003. The year after that, it fell below $3 per pound, the first time that had happened since 1998. Conversely, fishing expenses – especially for fuel, bait, and equipment – have increased in the past 15 years, often dramatically.
For any single fisherman, bringing in 1,500 more pounds over the course of a year (the per-fisherman average increase over the fleet’s 2010 landings total of 96 million pounds) is not as preferable as earning over $1 more for each pound he or she catches, from an economic standpoint. So while it is newsworthy to note that Maine’s lobster industry was more productive than ever in 2011, the fact that the average per-pound price slipped from $3.31 in 2010 to $3.19 last year is not great news for Maine’s coastal economy.
If you want to see how 2011 compares to other years, how much was landed in each coastal county or lobster fishing zone, or stats for other commercial species, check out the official spreadsheet.