'Stored supply' glut
Lobstermen from Maine to Canada have again been battling excess supply this summer. Lobster off the boat is selling for as low as $2.20 a pound. That's up slightly from last summer, when lobster prices tumbled under $2 a pound in some regions.
Lobstermen were anticipating higher prices this summer, when stored lobster inventory began to emerge. "There's a back load of product in this market," said Carla Guenther, a fisheries science advisor for the Penobscot East Resource Center. The nonprofit, based in Stonington, Maine, supports fishing communities in eastern Maine.
Eight years ago, lobster boat prices averaged $4.63 a pound. Those prices have since tumbled nearly 50 percent, according to Maine fisheries landing data.
While Maine's Department of Marine Resources tracks boat prices for a variety of fish including lobster, there's no central database of real-time supply figures. That's coveted, market-driving information—much like data on the physical, spot oil markets.
"The stored supply (of lobster) is still high," said Guenther, adding inventory caught last fall may finally be showing up in the market. Lobsters are harvested year-round in Maine, although most are caught between late June and late December, when lobsters are most active.
But supply details emerging now—in the tail of August—are little comfort for independent lobstermen, who made financial plans for the year back in April, around tax season. Many had planned—and hoped—for lower supplies and higher prices that have not materialized. It costs a lobsterman around $500 just to leave the dock for one trip including fuel costs.
Maine lobsters usually are harvested by boat captains independently, or with one or two assistants. With lobster boat prices where they are, that leaves little profit for the independent operators.
Looking ahead, better prospects lie in weaning the region off lobster dependence, fisheries management experts say.
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