Update from Maine’s Lobstermen’s Association
By Melissa Waterman, Communications Coordinator, Maine Lobstermen’s Association
The winter months have been a busy time in the Maine lobster industry. Legislative, regulatory and economic changes are in the forefront now during this supposedly quiet season.
The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, created by the Maine Legislature in 2013 and funded by a fee placed on lobstermen, buyers and seafood processors’ licenses, hired its executive director last August. In December, it contracted with the international public relations firm Weber Shandwick to handle marketing activities for the Collaborative. Weber Shandwick is known for several strategies related to food: they devised the “milk mustache” campaign that helped stem a 30-year decline in American milk consumption, promoted pork as “the other white meat,” and boosted public perception of the potato as a nutritious, not junk, food. With another year of strong lobster landings in 2013 and strengthening prices due to growing demand, the Collaborative is poised to make a big impact in the market. The Collaborative will explain more about marketing activities planned for the future at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum in March.
The New England Fisheries Management Council, which has regulatory authority for many commercially harvested species in New England, published a major overhaul of its fishery habitat plans in October, 2014. The Omnibus Fish Habitat Amendment 2 reviews and revises the region’s habitat protections with the aim of protecting spawning and feeding areas for groundfish and other species, particularly cod. The public comment period on the Amendment closed early in 2015. Maine lobstermen argued against revising or creating new marine closures, specifically the waters known as “the Grey Zone” around Machias Seal Island, ownership of which is contested by both the United States and Canada. In addition, lobstermen made clear their concerns about a provision of the Amendment that could prohibit “gear capable of catching groundfish” in many areas. In comments from the state Department of Marine Resources and the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, it was made very clear that the term should not ever include lobster traps.
Ocean acidification has also been a topic of debate in Maine. A state commission released its report assessing what this problem means for Maine in December, noting that the changing pH of the North Atlantic Ocean poses serious economic issues for the state’s valuable shellfish aquaculture industry. The dangers posed to juvenile and adult lobsters has not been assessed as yet, but lobstermen are concerned about the long term impact on the species, and its possible link to lobster shell disease.
Finally, in early January the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York concluded that the U.S. government must adopt new rules under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to ensure seafood imported into the country meets U.S. standards for protecting whales and dolphins. The ruling will require foreign fisheries to meet those marine mammal protection standards or be denied import privileges. The case was brought before the court by the Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Under the January ruling, the federal government must make a final decision by August, 2016, about how to implement this requirement of the MMPA. The proposed rule is expected to be published in June 2015 for public comment. It is unclear how the rule would affect importation of Canadian lobster into the United States.