Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cal Hancock on 207 Mentions LOF!

Cal Hancock, of Hancock Gourmet Lobster, was on 207 last night making an awesome Shellfish Watermelon Ceviche. Some of her recipes are in the LOF Cookbook and she was kind enough to mention the cookbook on the show! Check out her recipe and clip here. Thanks Cal!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lobstermen find new ways to sell their catch


I just wrote an article about this for the Examiner.
This is from the Portland Press Herald (June 21):

Lobstermen take on new role: Salesman

By JOHN RICHARDSON

PORTLAND — It's Friday afternoon, and Chris Andrews has just returned from a 15-hour trip offshore to haul lobster traps.

Instead of catching up on his sleep, Andrews passes time in the parking lot of a Citgo gas station on Forest Avenue, next to a large sign with the words "Local Lobster" hand-painted across the top. Dozens of fresh, live lobsters rest on ice in the back of his truck, ready to go home with anyone willing to pay $5 each, or at least do a good job haggling.

"I'd rather be out hauling traps than doing this," Andrews said of his new part-time job as a seafood salesman. "This year, I have to do it."

Hawking lobsters is a job most Maine lobstermen have been happy to leave to other people. But the global collapse of lobster prices, together with high bait and fuel costs, has capsized the economics of Maine's signature coastal industry.

Now, Andrews is one of a growing number of lobstermen selling their own catches, bypassing dealers and fish markets. Even getting one dollar more per pound – $5 instead of $4 – may be enough to protect their livelihoods this summer, they say.

"A lot of people are trying to position their businesses to survive right now," said George Lapointe, commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources.

The roadside competition is clearly good for cost-conscious consumers, and for those who want to get their food directly from the guys who pulled it out of the ocean.

But the trend has inflamed old tensions between lobster catchers and lobster dealers at the same time the future of the industry may hinge on their ability to cooperate. Some dealers have tried to put a stop to the pickup-truck sales, warning that the practice is unfair and may drive prices down even further.

"They're putting themselves in a hole by doing this," said Robert Bushey, a lobster dealer in Milbridge.

CATCH RISES BUT SALES FALL

Lobster prices collapsed last fall, a casualty of the global financial meltdown.

While people around the world stopped ordering expensive lobster dinners, Canadian seafood processors – buyers of about 70 percent of Maine's annual catch – couldn't get the loans they needed and stopped buying Maine lobsters.

Wholesale prices paid to lobstermen, known as boat prices, plunged to as little as $2.25 per pound in some parts of the coast, the lowest in more than a decade. While Maine lobstermen last year caught 3 million pounds more lobster than the year before, their sales fell by nearly $50 million to $235.6 million, making for a lean winter in many households and coastal communities.

Boat prices this spring have hovered between $3.50 and $4, close to what some lobstermen need to cover their primary costs: fuel, bait, labor and boat payments that can total thousands of dollars a month. Prices rose as much as a dollar in the past week but are expected to settle back down after Father's Day and the Fourth of July.

Many fear boat prices could tank to between $2 and $3 a pound by the end of summer when lobster catches peak and the tourists go home.

"A lot of these guys simply aren't able to earn enough out there to warrant going out," said Jim Acheson, a University of Maine anthropology professor and expert on the lobster industry. "I haven't ever seen the situation anywhere near as bad as this."

'WE JUST WANT A FAIR PRICE'

The traditional way for a lobsterman to sell his catch is to accept whatever price is set by his usual dealer, often the same person who owns the wharf and supplies the bait. A typical dealer then supplies restaurants, seafood markets and other customers in Maine and around the world.

Despite the perennial – and unproven – complaints about price fixing by dealers, the arrangement typically works well for both. Now that there is less money to go around, however, that relationship is breaking down in some cases.

Andrews, a 35-year-old lobsterman, said fishermen are like family farmers. "Farmers always get the short end of the stick, but that's why you see farm markets," he said. "We don't want to do this stuff. We just want a fair price."

Andrews and fellow lobsterman Mike Davis have been selling their lobsters for $5 or $6 apiece Friday evenings and Saturdays at the gas station.

Another group of lobstermen has been selling their catches on weekends out of pickups parked alongside West Commercial Street in Portland.

Some lobstermen have hung "lobsters for sale" signs outside their homes for the first time. And a few are even advertising their lobsters on the Internet at prices ranging from $3.50 to $5.25 per pound.

Brent Nappi of Falmouth is putting an addition on his barn and installing a large tank to store and display his lobsters. He's now pre-selling lobsters that he'll trap later this summer, a marketing strategy based on community-supported agriculture programs for fresh produce.

Customers are paying $125 ahead of time for 25 or 30 pounds of lobster – $4 to $5 per pound. Those who buy shares in the Linda Kate Lobster Co-op can pick up the lobsters whenever they want them during a two-month period, and Nappi will even take customers aboard his boat and teach them about lobstering, he said.

Nappi hopes being creative will allow him and his helper to stay in the business even if boat prices fall below $3.

"It costs $2.50 to $3 just to tend a trap," he said. "Within the next 12 to 24 months, probably 10 percent of the fleet's going to go out of business."

The industry will be in for an even bigger fall if more lobstermen start selling on their own at wholesale prices, according to some dealers.

DEALERS FORESEE FATAL SPIRAL

Thirteen Maine lobster dealers and retailers wrote a letter last month to state officials, urging them to put a halt to the practice and require that catches be sold only to licensed lobster dealers.

"Retailers have far too much overhead to be able to sell at the same price that the roadside fishermen set," it says. The only way they can compete "and stay in business is to pay less for lobsters."

And that would lead to a deadly spiral, said Bushey, the lobster dealer in Milbridge.

Four lobstermen who used to sell their catches to Bushey now sell directly to consumers, he said. Some of them recently started selling through a local supermarket for $3.75 per pound, the same price Bushey was offering them at the dock.

"These lobster fishermen who are becoming dealers, if they try to take over a market, the only way they can do it is to cut the price, and it's just going to go into a spiral," he said. "Have them run a load to Boston and wait 60 days for their money and take a hit for all the dead lobsters in the crate. It's not all fun and profit."

In Portland, Ben Lindner has the same concerns.

His fish market, the Fishermen's Net, is less than a mile up Forest Avenue from the Citgo station where Andrews and Davis sell their lobsters.

"They (sell) at peak times and low-ball. It's not helping the other people around here," Lindner said.

It is the dealers and retailers – with their expensive tanks, full-time year-round employees and advertising budgets – who build and supply the markets that keep lobstermen employed, according to Lindner and others.

"I think a lot of them don't realize that. Yeah, they got expenses, but everybody else does, too," Lindner said.

State officials have stayed out of the dispute, saying they have no authority to tell lobstermen how to sell their catches. They also have no authority to tell dealers to increase boat prices, as some lobstermen have demanded, they said.

The only apparent effect of the letter, in fact, was to stoke the anger of lobstermen, who saw it as more proof that dealers have always conspired against them.

Dealers do have a legitimate point about the risk of driving prices down even further, said Andrews. "That would hurt everybody, we know that," he said.

Andrews and Davis said that's why their prices are closer to those at local fish markets than to the boat prices offered by dealers.

When the Fishermen's Net was selling lobsters for $4.99 per pound, for example, Andrews and Davis sold 1-pound lobsters for $5 apiece.

"We used to have pretty good relations with the dealers," Andrews said.

"I still want to," Davis replied. "I have two little kids and I'm going to do what I have to do."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

LAC commits to find lobster research funds

From Commercial Fisheries News

HALLOWELL, ME – The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Lobster Advisory Council met on March 25 to review the progress of its tiered license subcommittee, discuss funding for DMR lobster monitoring programs, and hear updates on bills before the Legislature.

Council Chairman Bob Baines reported that the tiered license system subcommittee met in February to look at possible criteria lobstermen could be required to meet in the future if a tiered-license system to distinguish full-time from part-time lobstermen is adopted.

“We took two steps forward and two steps back,” Baines said.

He explained that the subcommittee’s struggles mostly stemmed from the complexity of income tax filing laws.

“The variety of ways people can file their taxes – as a corporation, sole proprietor, or jointly – has caused the subcommittee problems in trying to create licensing rules since the DMR cannot be certain all the reported income on those returns has been generated through lobstering,” Baines said.

Because of this, a tiered license system could require lobstermen to demonstrate both landing and income amounts to prove that the majority of their income was generated through lobstering.

Baines clarified that if a lobsterman could show he had met the landing threshold amounts, “We would not ask for further income documentation.”

However, the DMR would require an affidavit submitted by a certified public account (CPA) on behalf of the individual lobsterman requesting a lobster license.

A lobsterman in the audience asked about possible privacy issues associated with requiring income documentation from lobstermen applying for a license.

“Isn’t it quite intrusive to request people’s level of income to get a license? There is no other profession that asks for that,” he said.

Sarah Cotnoir of the DMR replied that an affidavit submitted by a CPA would not reveal the actual dollar amount a lobsterman made, only the fact that the money was earned from lobstering and met the income threshold.

Baines further explained that the subcommittee would be meeting again sometime in April to try to define tiered-license income and landing thresholds.


Research funding

DMR lobster biologist Carl Wilson reported that federal funding for sea sampling and ventless trap research had been drastically reduced, placing the state’s lobster research programs in danger of being discontinued due to underfunding.

“We cannot count on federal funding for these programs going into the future,” he said.

But the programs got a reprieve this year when the board that advises how the Lobster Research, Education, and Development Fund is spent voted to provide funding to ensure sea sampling and ventless research continues. The fund comes from fees from the state’s lobster license plate.

“Basically, we got a stay of execution, but next year we will be right back in the same position,” Wilson explained.

Baines felt strongly that something needed to be done to stabilize lobster research funding.

“This is our science and our industry,” he said. “We need to do what we can to keep this science and industry going.”

Council members did some brainstorming to come up with ideas for how the industry itself could generate research funding.

“It is so obvious that we need to take care of these issues ourselves,” stated council member Peter McAleney. “The state of Maine will not be able to help us.”

Ultimately, council members came to a consensus that securing nontraditional funding sources for future scientific research is critical to the survival of the Maine lobster industry.

The council voted to establish a four-member subcommittee – Dana Rice, McAleney, Baines, and Jon Carter – to do further study and bring back recommendations to the full council.


Legislation

DMR Deputy Commissioner David Etnier updated the council on several bills under consideration in the Legislature.

LD 928, “An Act to Permit the Landing of Dragged Crabs as Bycatch,” would allow a person who is holding a commercial fishing license, but not a commercial lobster license, to land crabs that have been harvested as bycatch while using an otter trawl in federal waters.

“The DMR supports this bill and will place biological limits on the allowable bycatch,” Etnier said.

LD 246, “An Act Regarding Violations of Lobster Conservation Laws,” would add theft to the list of offenses for which a license may be suspended. It would allow the DMR commissioner to permanently revoke a lobsterman’s license for three or more lobster trap molesting offenses.

Also, it increases the penalties for possession of egg bearing and v-notched lobsters and expands the types of illegal lobsters for which a second offense would result in a mandatory suspension.

And it creates a requirement that a lobster and crab fishing license holder who is fishing for or taking lobsters may operate only the vessel listed on the license holder’s license.

“The intent here is to clamp down on people fishing two gangs of gear, not to insist the boat owner’s hand is always on the throttle,” Etnier explained.

He added that LD 246 had “unanimous support out of committee and is on its way to passage out in the Legislature.”

State Sen. Dennis Damon reported to the council concerning LD 1009, “An Act to Allow Lobster License Exemptions to Fishermen with Certain Medical Criteria.”

Basically, the bill would allow a person to obtain a lobster license if he/she had not had one the previous year due to illness or a medical condition.

Although council members were sympathetic to individuals in such a situation, overall they felt that the legislation as written could do more harm than good.

Damon also discussed LD 1128, “An Act to Allow Family Members of an Island Community to Share a Lobster and Crab Fishing License.”

This bill would allow the holder of a current Class I, Class II, or Class III lobster and crab fishing license who is a permanent resident on an island not connected to the mainland by a bridge to share that license with family members who are permanent residents of the same island or another nonbridged island within the same municipality.

A family member sharing the Class I, Class II, or Class III lobster and crab fishing license is subject to the same privileges and restrictions as the primary license holder. For each family member sharing a Class I, Class II, or Class III lobster and crab fishing license, the number of trap tags the primary license holder is eligible to receive under that license is reduced by 20%.

This bill also provides that, if the primary license holder dies or retires from commercially fishing for lobster and crab, a family member sharing the license must be named as the primary license holder or the license lapses back to the state.

The council voted to support the bill with several members abstaining.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

5 Questions for Patrice McCarron, Executive Director of the MLA

1. Why did you become the executive dir. of the MLA?

I was raised to value hardwork and never to expect to
get anything for nothing. If you work hard and are honest,
you'll be happy. I think that is what attracted me to the
Maine lobster industry -- lobstermen personify a good
honest hard day's work.

Due to the lack of good work in Maine, I was working at the
New England Aquarium in Boston, on fisheries issues, and
really wanted to get back to Maine. Through the Aquarium, I got
to know the MLA and was asked to come and work for them.
I was very excited to have the opportunity to take on more
of a leadership role as Executive Director when the job opened
up. And I wouldn't trade it for anything!

2. What has been one the biggest obstacles you have faced as exec. dir. of the MLA?


There are so many obstacles in this industry, but the one
that is most difficult for me is the lack of support for MLA from
the lobster industry. Of our 5800 commercial license holders,
only about 1000 are MLA members (our other 200 members
are businesses). I know that lobstermen confuse MLA's role in
trying to ensure that "the forces of change" don't take away
what is most important to our industry. Because MLA is at
the table fighting to make the most of some difficult situations,
people often blame us for that change. I think a lot of lobstermen
really believe that because we talk about it, it is our fault that
change happens. One thing that I know for sure is that change
will happen with or without us, and without us, it would surely
happen in a way that erodes our culture, heritage and way of life.
I wish more people could see the big picture and more fully understand
just how many bullets we've dodged over the years.

3. What are some of the biggest rewards of being exec. dir.?

The biggest reward of this job is knowing that the work the MLA
does really matters. The issues we engage on literally impact
people's ability to earn a living and keep our coastal communities
alive, but it is even bigger than that. The lobster industry is so
steeped in history and tradition, and I just love knowing that our
work will help to ensure that there is place in this industry for our children.

4. Do you like lobster? What's your favorite way to eat it?

I love lobster. I'll eat it any way it is served, but by far my
favorite is to have a lobster bake with my family!. And shedders are
my favorite because there is no need for butter!

5. What are some of your goals for the MLA/the lobstering industry?


My goal for the MLA is to see it become more proactive on the
issues that mean the most to lobstermen, and to have more lobstermen
support us. We've been so overwhelmed with the intense management
environment, that we find ourselves fighting to just to keep up.

My goal for the lobster industry is to see it really thrive and continue to
provide a good living for people who want to stay in the business. And then
to ensure that this same opportunity is available for our children and future
generations.

Update

Our newest little fisherman was born on June 2! He had to spend a little time in the NICU because he had some breathing issues but he is home with us now and a great little baby!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Smart Gear Competition

From www.smartgear.org:

$30,000 Grand Prize and Two $10,000 Runner-Up Prizes

Designed to inspire innovative ideas for environmentally-friendly fishing gear, the fourth International Smart Gear Competition was launched on January 27th 2009. The completion is searching for new designs for fishing devices that reduce bycatch, real-world fishing solutions that allow fishermen to fish 'smarter' by better targeting their intended catch while safeguarding the dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life often caught unintentionally.

The competition is open to eligible entrants from any profession, including fishermen, professional gear manufacturers, teachers, students, engineers, scientists and backyard inventors, offering anyone a chance to win. The winner of the WWF International Smart Gear Competition will be decided by a diverse set of judges, including fishermen, researchers, engineers and fisheries managers from all over the world.

To learn more about this competition and how to enter go to www.smartgear.org.