2012-07-27 / Front Page

Vendors do their part to help lobstermen

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

Maine’s summer tourist season is in full effect, as out-ofstate residents converge on coastal communities from Cape Elizabeth to Wiscasset to visit the rocky beaches, coastal harbors and, of course, to enjoy some lobster.

Fishermen around the state hope visitors are hungry.

Lobster prices are much lower than usual at this time of the season because of an influx of product on the water, meaning lobstermen all over the state can’t catch enough to make a profit.

“It’s from the east, midcoast, Downeast, it’s real cheap,” said Jodie Jordan of Alewive’s Brook Farm in Cape Elizabeth. “They’re getting a lot of lobsters, they’ve got no place to go with them.”

Lobster is priced at $4.99 a pound at Alewive’s Brook Farm, slightly higher than the average price around the rest of the area, because, as Jordan said, he wants to help the Cape Elizabeth lobstermen with whom he has done business for years.

“They appreciate very much that I’m paying them more money, no question about it. They understand I can’t buy from hundreds of them. I only buy from the ones that have been selling to me for the last 10, 20 years. It gives them more money and I get good quality lobsters to sell to the public,” Jordan said.

Tom Murphy used to own a lobster boat and caught lobsters off of Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth. Now, he lives in Old Orchard Beach and stops by Alewive’s Brook Farm to help with chores like walking the farm’s dog. Murphy said the most probable reason for the influx of lobsters is the mild temperatures over the course of the winter.

He said warm ocean temperatures most likely caused soft-shell lobsters, or “shedders,” to slip out of their shells early, meaning there are too many shedders on the water for lobstermen to catch. But Murphy added that no one can really know all the factors on the water.

“Lobstering is part science, part art,” he said.

Bob Coppersmith, owner of Docks Seafood restaurant and seafood market in South Portland, said he has no idea what is causing the abundance of lobster.

“To be honest with you, everybody’s guessing. My own personal opinion is, nobody knows,” Coppersmith said. “You ain’t going to fool Mother Nature. She’s going to do what she’s going to do, and it’s going to happen.”

Right now, Coppersmith is selling four lobsters that weigh more than a pound each for $23. Last year at this time, he said the price would most likely have been closer to $32 or $33. He said the abnormally low prices are driving a lot of traffic to Docks.

“I got some people coming in here sometimes twice a day,” Coppersmith said.

But he said that demand can only sustain itself for so long and the increased traffic hasn’t actually translated to a huge profit for him because of the extra resources the restaurant has to provide while selling the product at a very low price.

“It sounds crazy,” Coppersmith said, but he’s actually selling more lobsters and making less money.

Jordan and Coppersmith both said a factor further complicating their business is the difficulty in shipping the abundant quantity of lobsters on the market. While it is possible to ship a shedder, most of the product that gets shipped are hardshell lobsters, which can survive long trips more easily. The problem is, there aren’t many hard-shell lobsters on the market this time of the year.

Jordan said a shedder can conceivably survive a sixto eight-hour trip and still live, but Coppersmith warns buyers from far away that while he selects the highest quality shedders to ship out that have the best chance of survival, there is always a small chance that the lobster could die in transit.

According to the Maine Lobsterman’s Association, low demand from Canadian processors, which usually take shedders from Maine at their facilities, is not helping Maine lobstermen either.

“The Canadian processors have plenty of lobsters, and the abundant soft shell lobsters being harvested in Maine waters right now don’t seem to be moving through the distribution chain,” said the Executive Director of the Maine Lobsterman’s Association, Patrice McCarron, in a press release.

For things to improve over the course of the summer, Murphy said consumers need to change their perceptions about lobster as a luxury item. He said many tourists come to Maine to eat lobster anyway. But to see a significant increase in demand, people who order a hot dog or hamburger at a restaurant need to order a lobster — which is at a similar price right now — instead.

“People think it’s a luxury,” Coppersmith said, but recent advertisements and news reports have shown lobster to be cheaper than bologna, which Coppersmith said has made some people think. He hopes that will also cause them “to treat themselves a couple more times.”

The annual Maine Lobster Festival will draw plenty of tourists to Camden ready to enjoy the shedders from Wednesday, Aug. 1 to Sunday, Aug. 5. Additionally, the Maine Lobster Promotion Council has announced a Lobster Lover Campaign that will include various promotions throughout August.

Marianne LaCroix, the council’s director of marketing, said she hopes the campaign will encourage people to eat more lobster and therefore help out fishermen on the water. She said the shedders are very sweet, easy to eat and, for the most part, only available locally. LaCroix added she hopes people will “enjoy as much Maine lobster as they can. It’s not really a hardship to do that.”

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