Maine’s 2015 lobster catch value jumps by $37 million

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The volume dipped but the overall value of Maine’s statewide lobster harvest reached an all-time high of $495 million in 2015. (BDN file photo)

The volume was down but the value was up for Maine’s 2015 total lobster haul, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

The estimated cumulative gross income for the statewide lobster fishing fleet increased from $458 million in 2014 to $495 million last year – a jump of $37 million, according to a press release issued Thursday night by DMR.

It is the sixth year in a row that the estimated dockside value of Maine’s annual lobster harvest has hit an all-time high.

And for the first time since 2007 — before the onset of the Great Recession — the average per-pound price that Maine fishermen were paid for their catch was more than $4. That average increased from $3.70 in 2014 to $4.09 in 2015, according to the release.

Maine’s lobster fishery is the largest lobster fishery in the country and by far the largest commercial fishery in Maine, comprising more than 80 percent of all of the commercial fishing revenue in the state.

For the second year in a row, the total estimated volume of the statewide lobster catch decreased. After hitting a record high of 127.8 million pounds in 2013, the annual catch volume dipped to 124 million pounds in 2014 and then to 121 million pounds last year, DMR indicated.

“Maine’s lobster fishery continues to be a major engine for our coastal economy,” Patrick Keliher, commissioner for Maine Department of Marine Resources, said in the release. “This past year saw a continuation of steady and historic lobster landings throughout the season. The increase in value reflects growing demand for Maine lobster.”

Despite the dip in volume, the amount of lobster harvested in Maine last year remains exceptionally high compared to prior decades. The volume of Maine’s statewide annual catch hovered around 20 million pounds for more than 40 years, from the end of World War II through the 1980s. It has not gone up every year since then, but on the whole has risen steadily since 1990.

The 121 million pound catch estimate for 2015 in the fourth-largest total ever for Maine and marks the fourth year in a row landings have surpassed 120 million pounds. The average per-pound price of $4.09 paid to fishermen last year is the third-highest such annual average, exceeded only by average prices of $4.39 in 2007 and $4.63 in 2005.

Overall, the total estimated value of all commercial marine fishery landings in Maine for 2015 was $631 million — an all-time record and an increase of more than $33 million over the previous record of $598 million set in 2014, according to the agency.

The annual catch value of two other Maine fisheries also increased in 2015, DMR indicated.

The softshell clam fishery retained its second place standing in overall statewide value at $22.5 million, breaking the previous high of $20.2 million from the prior year. The average 2015 price of $2.46 per pound represented an increase of $0.47 per pound, or 23 percent, from the 2014 average price paid to fishermen. The volume of the statewide harvest of whole softshell clams fell from 2014 to 2015 by one million pounds, from 10.1 million to 9.1 million.

The value of the elver fishery also increased despite a drop in landings. The average price of $2,171 per pound paid to licensed elver fishermen last year exceeded the previous highest average annual price, set in 2012, by roughly $300 per pound. That average price was nearly $1,300 higher than the 2014 average of $874, helping to boost the annual catch value by nearly $3 million last year to $11.4 million.

A cold spring in 2015 kept the volume of the harvest of the baby American eels fairly low. Though the statewide cap on elvers was 9,688 pounds, Maine fishermen cumulatively caught only 5,259 pounds, according to DMR.

The highest catch volumes and value for the state’s elver fishery were recorded in 2012 and 2013, before interstate fisheries regulators imposed an annual cap on Maine’s annual elver harvest. Fishermen caught 21,000 pounds of elvers in 2012 for a statewide gross revenue total of $40 million. The following year, they caught 18,000 pounds, earning a total of $33 million for their catch.

Both the volume and the value of Maine’s herring fishery, the third most valuable in the state, declined last year. Fishermen caught 103.5 million pounds of herring worth $16.2 million in 2014, but last year caught 86 million pounds worth $13.5 million.

Bill Trotter

About Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for 20 years, Bill Trotter keeps track of how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coast shape the lives, lifestyles and livelihoods of coastal Maine residents and visitors. A resident of Ellsworth, Bill covers Acadia National Park, Hancock County, fisheries, marine-related topics and more for the BDN. Follow him on Twitter at @billtrotter.