Stonington resident Kurt Ciomei unloads a day's catch from his boat, Miss Mell, at the Stonington Co-op in this August 2018 file photo. Maine lobstermen caught $484 million worth of lobster last year, marking a $46 million increase in that state's annual lobster landings value. Credit: Terry Farren

State officials say Maine fishermen caught $46 million more worth of lobster in 2018 than they did the previous year.

Maine lobstermen caught 120 million pounds of lobster worth $484 million last year, the fishery’s third-highest annual total value ever, the Maine Department of Marine Resources said Friday morning. That amount is 8 million pounds more than the 112 million pounds they caught in 2017, and $46 million more than the $438 million worth that they brought ashore in Maine that same year.

The average statewide per-pound price that fishermen were paid for their catch increased from $3.92 to $4.05 per pound, DMR said. That average makes 2018 the seventh year out of the past 15 years in which Maine lobstermen have earned more than $4 per pound.

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The increases help to reverse a drop in value of more than $100 million in Maine’s annual dockside lobster landings in Maine from 2016 to 2017. Despite that drop, 2017’s statewide lobster landings value of $438 million was Maine’s fourth-highest yearly lobster landings total ever recorded.

The highest yearly value of Maine’s lobster landings was in 2016 when fishermen brought $540 million worth of lobster ashore. The record annual average price Maine lobstermen have earned for their catch was $4.63 per pound in 2005.

The 2018 catch volume and value totals are based on preliminary counts from reports lobster fishermen and dealers file with the state. The totals are expected to increase slightly over the coming months as more reports are filed or amended.

Maine’s lobster fishery is by far the largest and most valuable commercial fishery in Maine and the largest lobster fishery in the country. American lobster was the most valuable single species harvested in the U.S. in 2015, 2016, and 2017, with Maine landings accounting for approximately 80 percent of that value each year, according to data published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Lobster landings in Maine have soared in both volume and value since the late 1980s, when fishermen in the state were used to catching roughly 20 million pounds with a cumulative worth of $100 million each year. The value of Maine’s annual catch has topped $400 million each year since 2014 while the volume has exceeded 100 million pounds every year since 2011.

For years, lobster fishermen, scientists and regulators have acknowledged that the lobster population boom over the past 30 years in the warming Gulf of Maine will reverse course, most likely because of climate change. According to a Gulf of Maine Research Institute study released last year, the gulf’s lobster population could drop by as much as two-thirds by 2050.

“We must continue to look at adapting to a changing Gulf of Maine while facing related challenges that include a pending bait shortage and whale rules,” DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said Friday.

Overall, the value of all of Maine’s commercial fisheries last year totaled $637 million, representing the state’s second highest annual multi-species landings value, DMR said. Lobsters represented more than three-quarters of the total value.

The state’s annual catch of herring, which the lobster fishery heavily relies upon for bait, fell last year from 65.4 million pounds to 61.6 million pounds. The landings value of that fishery decreased by $1.2 million to $16.5 million.

The value of Maine’s 2018 elver harvest, which has an annual cap of 9,688 pounds, was $21.7 million, a $9.5 million increase over the year before. Maine’s softshell clam harvest increased by more than 250,000 pounds and by more than half a million dollars in value, resulting in 2018 catch totals of 7.1 million pounds and $12.8 million.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....