Lobster Glut Slams Prices, Wall Street Journal

BillD

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Lobster Glut Slams Prices

Some Fishermen Keep Boats in Port; Outside Maine, No Drop for Consumers



By JERRY A. DICOLO and NICOLE FRIEDMAN

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Matthew Healey for The Wall Street Journal Lobster boats sat dormant Saturday in Vinalhaven, Maine, as fishermen react to low prices.



Before sunrise last Monday, in a parking lot by the water in Winter Harbor, Maine, a gathering of lobstermen came to a rare consensus: prices were too low to go fishing.
"I've never seen them tie up [their boats] as a group like this before," said Randy Johnson, manager of the Winter Harbor Lobster Co-op. The 30 vessels in his co-operative have remained in port for a week straight.
"I'm looking at all their boats as we speak," he said Friday when reached at the co-op, which sits across the bay from Bar Harbor "They all have a cut-off point [in price] where they can and can't fish," he said. "It's an impossible situation."
Harbors up and down the coast of Maine are filled with idle fishing boats, as lobster haulers decide that pulling in their lobster pots has become a fruitless pursuit.
Prices at the dock have fallen to as low as $1.25 a pound in some areas—roughly 70% below normal and a nearly 30-year-low for this time of year, according to fishermen, researchers and officials. The reason: an unseasonably warm winter created a supply glut throughout the Atlantic lobster fishery.
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Those prices have officials and lobstermen concerned about the fate of one of the state's most vital industries. "For some people it will be disaster, they are going to go bankrupt," said Bob Bayer, director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine.
Retail lobster prices in Maine have started to fall along with the glut, and Mr. Bayer said that some fishermen have begun selling lobsters out of their trucks for as low as $4 a pound. But consumers elsewhere in the U.S. aren't likely to see bargains. The Maine lobsters that currently are in season can't be shipped long distances due to their soft shells, and retailers have other fixed costs that limit big price drops.
"There could be a small effect, but I wouldn't expect much," Mr. Bayer said.
Lobsters are a $300-million-a-year industry in Maine, according to Halifax, Canada, consulting firm Gardner Pinfold. Along with Canada, Maine's thousands of independent lobstermen supply the vast majority of the world's clawed lobsters, which have seen a population boom over the past three decades due to rising water temperatures and overfishing of cod and haddock, their main predators.
Profit margins are low even in good years, but this summer the problem has intensified. The wholesalers that buy directly from lobstermen are paying less than it costs for many boats to turn a profit.
"Anything under $4 [a pound], lobstermen can't make any money," said Bill Adler, head of the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association, which publishes a weekly report on lobster prices in the U.S. and Canada.
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Matthew Healey for The Wall Street Journal Lobsterman Joe Hutchinson stacks traps.



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Mr. Adler, a former lobsterman, said the warm winter had two effects. It allowed Canadian lobstermen, who typically fish in the early spring, to bring in large catches due to the mild temperatures. And the lobsters that Maine fishermen catch in the summer months—the ones that can't be shipped live due to their softer shells—arrived six weeks earlier than normal.
"The month of June might have been a record in the state of Maine for catch," said Peter Miller, a veteran lobsterman from Tenants Harbor. His business is struggling despite traps that have brought in hauls four times larger than normal.
The price slump has led some lobstermen to take drastic action. Patrick Keliher, the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, said his agency has investigated reports of lobstermen coercing others not to go out fishing in an effort to lower supplies and raise prices back to more normal levels.
"Frankly, there were some fisherman that were trying to bully some people into not fishing. Most of it was veiled threats, and as soon as we started hearing about it, I made sure patrol was aware," said Mr. Keliher.
On Monday, Mr. Keliher issued a statement warning that threats to cut lobster traps loose or force lobstermen to stay in port "will be met with targeted and swift enforcement." He added that any attempts to impose a broader fishing halt "may be in violation of federal antitrust laws."
A shutdown is already taking place though, according to some Maine residents. In Knox County, which has several hundred licensed lobstermen, boats have stayed tied to their moorings for over a week, said Diane Cowan, executive director of the Lobster Conservancy in Friendship, Maine.
"I don't know how they came to agree on this," said Ms. Cowan. "The boats are all at their moorings and all the lobster traps are all in the water."
Ms. Cowan has lived in Friendship for 14 years. The town of about 1,200 residents has two churches and two lobster co-ops. Its harbor, which typically is filled with the sound of diesel engines as roughly 200 lobster boats motor in and out of the bay with their catches, has gone silent.
"I live on the water. All the boats are tied up, and it's absolutely quiet and peaceful," said Ms. Cowan.
While many are hopeful that prices will recover along with demand as tourists head to Maine for lobster boils and seafood festivals, some worry this season could have a lasting impact.
Mr. Miller, of Tenants Harbor, works with his three brothers, all of whom learned the business from their father. His son has joined the family trade, along with two cousins. But after 38 years, Mr. Miller says the job is not what it used to be.
"It's not a good business right now," said Mr. Miller, who frequently tells his son to switch jobs. "My catch is ahead of last year, but my checkbook says I'm not doing as well."
Write to Jerry A. DiColo at [email protected] and Nicole Friedman at [email protected]
A version of this article appeared July 16, 2012, on page A3 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Lobster Glut Slams Prices.




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lobstercatcher

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So.. what did we have all these regulation changes for?

The consumer don't want what the regualtaion changes make us catch.. or.. yikes !!!we would be getting 10 cents a pound if we were catching the old size lobsters!!!!:eek::eek::eek:
 

lobstercatcher

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here is part of the real problem.

""Anything under $4 [a pound], lobstermen can't make any money," said Bill Adler, head of the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association,"

Now theres a guy who helped ruin the industry. After years of many people agreeing with what he wanted to turn the lobster industry into.

We now have it.

I told you so.
 
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BillD

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here is part of the real problem.

""Anything under $4 [a pound], lobstermen can't make any money," said Bill Adler, head of the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association,"

Now theres a guy who helped ruin the industry. After years of many people agreeing with what he wanted to turn the lobster industry into.

We now have it.

I told you so.

I'm not in the lobstering business.
Not sure the history nor the present !
Just copying and pasting the news along.:)
 

lobstercatcher

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I'm not in the lobstering business.
Not sure the history nor the present !
Just copying and pasting the news along.:)

The replies were not directed at you.

When they develope a indusrty to what it is today. They shouldn't complain when it doesn't work.


Those who supported people working toward the changes got duped. A industry implosion was inevitable.

Sooner or later came.

Someone should start a association for lobstermen.
 

maineguides

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His business is struggling despite traps that have brought in hauls four times larger than normal.

What am I missing here?

If they normally get say $5 pound
for lobsters this time of year but this year they are only getting $2 a pound but there catching 4 times as much wouldnt that be like getting $8 a pound?
 

maineguides

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its not 4 times the work not even close. you pull 4 lobsters out of a trap instead of one!! and its not the same money its $8 per trap instead of $5.
HELLO????????????
 

lobstercatcher

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its not 4 times the work not even close. you pull 4 lobsters out of a trap instead of one!! and its not the same money its $8 per trap instead of $5.
HELLO????????????

Depending on where you are refering to.

In my case, I go and haul traps until I'm exhausted. I am not catching 4 times as much nor is anyone else in my area that I know of. Reguardless.. If you work until you just about drop catching what you normally do... then all of a sudden, you increase the work load by 50% or by 4 times..

How can the workload be sustainable?

The industry is depressed. Inflation and population adjusted $5 lb is great depression pricing. Imagine what $2lb or less represents. The catch and pricing won't allow the majority of fishermen get back to todays inflate salaries. I use to make more money than most police and firemen. Granted, I had one heck of a investment compared to them but at todays prices and catch. I don't see myself earning what they do. Realistically I don't earn a heck of a lot.
 

lobstercatcher

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What am I missing here?

If they normally get say $5 pound
for lobsters this time of year but this year they are only getting $2 a pound but there catching 4 times as much wouldnt that be like getting $8 a pound?

30 years ago I got $7.40lb for the high price for the year. I don't see me getting that much this year. About 4 years ago the high price I got was $13lb.

$5 lb is not normal. We do get paid that and abviously less. Its not right. A healthy business is not sustainaly getting paid that per lb. The operating cost have to come from someplace reguardless of what you make. Not sure how the fishermen come up with all the expence money but probably loans and remortgae the homes. You use to be able to skimp out on health insurance to help get by by you cant do that anymore now that its mandated.
 

BillD

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30 years ago I got $7.40lb for the high price for the year. I don't see me getting that much this year. About 4 years ago the high price I got was $13lb.

$5 lb is not normal. We do get paid that and abviously less. Its not right. A healthy business is not sustainaly getting paid that per lb. The operating cost have to come from someplace reguardless of what you make. Not sure how the fishermen come up with all the expence money but probably loans and remortgae the homes. You use to be able to skimp out on health insurance to help get by by you cant do that anymore now that its mandated.

You paint a dam pessimistic outlook on the lobstering industry.
I'd expect Uncle Henry's, Maine Craigslist Boats and Fisherman's Voice classifieds for lobster boats for sale to hit a high water mark going forward !
Sad,
 
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