Lobster glut causing tension between Maine and Canada

A customer leaves the Harbor Fish Market on July 21, 2012 in Portland, Maine.

Jeremy Hobson: Well corn prices may be rising, but lobster prices are at rock bottom lows. And that's causing a cross-border fight between Maine lobstermen and Canadian ones. The Canadian lobstermen have been blocking their American counterparts from dropping off their catch at Canadian processing plants. They don't want to add more lobsters into the mix and further depress prices.

David Thomas has been in the business for 37 years and he joins us from Isleford, Maine. Good morning.

David Thomas: Good morning.

Hobson: We’ll take us right back to the beginning of this story. What is going on right now with the supply of lobster and the prices?

Thomas: We are having a record two months of early soft shell lobsters. I have no idea what we’re going to have this year but we have just been swamped.

Hobson: Now you’d think that would be a good thing but I guess, if you’re trying to sell lobsters and there are too many of them it’s not a good thing.

Thomas: Well, we’re a victim of our own conservation. We those back lobsters with eggs, we have escape vents in our traps – the little ones get out – the water is warmer then it was, there are fewer predators; so it’s a perfect storm of events that are leading us to record catches.

Hobson: And what has happened to prices then?

Thomas: I’m selling lobsters now for the lowest I’ve sold them for the last 35 years.

Hobson: So, after you catch and bring in your lobsters, you have to take them to a processing plant. And in many case that plant is in Canada, right?

Thomas: Yeah, there are 18 to 20 processing facilities in maritime Canada and I think, three in the state of Maine. 

Hobson: So, you’re really reliant on the Canadians to process your lobsters.   

Thomas: We have been for years.

Hobson: And they’re saying “We don’t want your lobsters because you’re driving down prices on this side of the border.”

Thomas: That’s right. The Canadians had a good spring with hard shell lobsters. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.

Hobson: If there’s a Canadian lobstermen listening to this right now, what would your message be to that person about your situation and why they should let you process your lobsters at their plants? 

Thomas: I guess I would apologize to them for even going and catching lobster at the price there at. But other than that I would say the shoe goes both ways because all of the lobsters that we import into Canada come back to this country.

Hobson: David Thomas is a commercial lobsterman in Islesford, Maine. Thank you so much for talking to us.

Thomas: Well thank you. You’re welcome. Bye-bye.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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