Lawmakers are proposing to extend the Maine Lobster Marketing group for 5 years

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A year after the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the usual Maine lobster markets and the industry prepared for another onslaught of changes brought on by right-wing whale regulations, state lawmakers are proposing a bill to break the organization down Maine’s signature shellfish marketed, re-authorizing, for at least five more years.

The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative was founded in 2013 to help the Lobster Promotion Council promotes Maine lobster in restaurants, cruise lines, casinos, hotels, and especially last year in grocery stores and home cooks.

The annual budget of $ 2.2 million is funded through surcharges for government-issued lobster licenses. The supplements are not allowed to change according to the proposed legislation.

The five-year approval of the cooperation is expected to expire in October. According to Patrick Keliher Commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, it is more important than ever that the work of the group continues.

The industry “faced new and previously unimaginable challenges last spring and many of the major lobster markets … closed overnight,” he said. “It is critical that this industry, so important to the economic health of Maine’s coastal communities, has a mechanism in place to promote its product and insure it against changing market conditions.”

Dustin Delano, Lobsterman, board member and vice president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said the industry could not afford to lose its contribution, especially after last year and before the changes expected due to a number of proposed mitigation measures the endangered North Atlantic right whale by up to 98 percent.

Lobstermen and Maine representatives were asked about the potential impact of these rules on the lobster industry. In a letter to the National Sea Fisheries Service, Keliher said it would require a complete reinvention of one of the state’s major economic drivers.

“We can’t just scrap this resource,” Delano said of the collaboration. “I see it as a lifeline … (and) it’s part of what got us through the 2020 season.”

But not everyone feels that way.

On behalf of the Maine Lobstering Union Local 207 and the The union’s own cooperative marketing operation Lobster 207, Lobster woman Virginia Olsen, said the industry was unable to support a marketing program.

Lobster people “are fighting for their livelihood,” she said. “Asking fishermen to pay for promotions for an industry they are fighting for just doesn’t suit them.

“We cannot support a marketing program by reducing our fisheries by 98 percent,” she said. “If regulations and rising costs persist, we’ll be the next endangered species and won’t need a commercialization program.”

Maile Buker, vice president of marketing at Hannaford Supermarkets and a member of the partnership, told the grocery store The retail chain sold around 1.3 million pounds of Maine lobster in 2020, a 175 percent increase over the previous year. When the pandemic broke out, many meat suppliers were unwilling to meet demand, but Maine seafood suppliers helped fill that void.

Meat is back on the shelves, but the demand for lobster has continued, she said.

“Marketing is vital to the food retail industry,” she said, “and can help customers prepare food in ways they never imagined.”

Lobster wasn’t just a hit with Hannaford.

According to Marianne LaCroix, director of the partnership, the organization has had more than 350,000 visits to its online retailer inventory and found that 43 percent of wholesalers are more likely to buy Maine lobsters because of their marketing campaign. Nearly 600,000 customers said they were more likely to buy Maine lobsters after the collaboration’s 2020 consumer advertising campaign, LaCroix said, and they plan to further increase demand through social media reach and new product innovations, among other things.

The industry was facing “serious threats” from various industries over the next few years from the proposed regulations and competition for seabed exploitation and the cooperation was ready to help address these concerns.

Brian Langley, former lawmaker, board member and owner of Union River Lobster Pot restaurant in Ellsworth, said the upcoming marketing plan will focus on promoting the lobster industry as a sustainable fishery and the lobster as environmentally responsible.

In the past, The focus of the collaboration is on leveraging social media, lobster sightseeing trips and after-hours tasting parties to get top chefs from across the country to fall in love with new-shell lobster came under fire from some lobster men, traders, and the lobster union. They claimed the strategy does not help those who harvest new clams late in the fall, devotes too much time, attention, and money to the harvester side, and wasted licenseholders’ money on strategies that do not raise lobster prices.

Dealers were particularly frustrated, saying that they are paying the lion’s share of the royalty and making the least of it.

Fees range from just $ 165 per year for a lobsterman fishing solo, to $ 1,200 for a wholesaler or lobster freighter, to $ 4,000 for the highest volume processors. Some players in this industry have more than one license, so they pay more than once into the Lobster Promotion Fund, which funds the collaboration.

As suggested, LD 338 would have funded the collaboration indefinitely, but members of the Marine Resources Committee voted Tuesday to approve the group for another five years instead.

“If you do this indefinitely, it takes away a lot of that accountability,” said Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor.

In general, the idea of ​​marketing is pretty well supported by the fishermen, he said, noting that it works well for the blueberry industry but that there are still too many question marks.

“Maybe after a few years of standing,” he said.

Rep. Sherman Hutchins, R-Penobscot, agreed that the sunset clause was a good idea.

“Any government program funded indefinitely could get lazy pretty easily,” he said.

Given looming concerns over a number of proposed regulations for right-wing whales and offshore wind projects, “it’s hard to say where we’ll be with landings in a few years,” he said. “You won’t want an endless fee if you’re scared of being out of business in two or three years.”

Keliher also supported the five-year extension, adding that the industry is hoping for some stability over the next three to five years.

The cooperation must report annually to the committee.

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