PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s lobster haul might be less this year, and prices have drifted downward for both lobstermen and consumers, members of the industry say.
American lobster fishing is in the midst of a multiyear boom, with Maine fishermen setting a record of nearly 131 million pounds last year. Fishermen in the state have caught more than 100 million pounds for six years in a row after never previously reaching that total.
But fishermen saw smaller catches this summer, and some in the industry believe the catch could be as much as 30 percent off this year, said market analyst John Sackton, founder of SeafoodNews.com.
Meanwhile, prices for live lobsters are lagging behind last year. The wholesale per-pound price for a 1.25-pound, hard-shelled, live New England lobster averaged $8.28 in October 2016 and $7.54 last month.
“This is why people in the fleet are grumbling. There has been a retrenchment,” Sackton said. “The expectation is that landings will be down.”
The downward trend in prices means lobsters are a little bit more affordable to consumers in some markets. Some stores in Maine are selling them for $6 to $7 per pound, which is a little bit low even for the typically slow fall season.
One reason prices have fallen is Canadian seafood processors are buying less lobster right now, Sackton said. The processors are expecting less inventory this year and are adjusting by buying less, he said.
Another concern is a new Canada-European Union deal that cut tariffs on Canadian lobster exports to the 28-nation bloc. That move gives Canada a considerable advantage over the United States in sending the premium seafood product to Europe, where it’s a delicacy in several countries.
It all adds up to a stressful year for lobstermen in Maine, where fishing for the crustaceans is a way of life that goes back centuries. Maine is far and away the biggest lobster producing state in the U.S., and Maine fishermen accounted for more than 80 percent of the nationwide catch last year.
David Cousens, a lobsterman in South Thomaston and the president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said his catch is about 20 percent off last year’s pace. He speculated that this year’s total catch could be closer to 100 million pounds.
“I don’t know what we’re looking at, but I know it’s going to be less. They haven’t been high all year,” Cousens said. “And we’re at a disadvantage of all aspects of trade.”