Low boat prices have plagued lobstermen for years, with per-pound price averages below $4 since 2008. On June 19, more than 50 fishermen gathered in Ellsworth to talk about bucking that trend.
“We’ve talked and talked about low boat prices,” said Bob Baines, chairman of the Department of Marine Resources’ Lobster Advisory Council. “Now we’re finally going to do something about it.”
That something is “Project Maine Lobster: Build Global Demand.” The project will raise $3 million to launch a branding and marketing campaign to increase demand for Maine lobster.
The plan for increasing demand has been in the works for several months, said Baines. John Suave, president of The Food and Wellness Group and former director of the Wild Blueberry Association of North America, outlined the need for and components of the marketing campaign.
Suave explained how generic marketing—branding and promoting “Maine lobster”—could raise demand for the product, which in turn would raise boat prices.
“It’s never been done with Maine lobster,” said Suave. Other successful
generic campaigns include marketing wild blueberries as full of antioxidants, or the California dairy industry as the home of “happy cows.”
Though the campaign would be global, most effort to increase demand would focus on the U.S. and make use of strong association of Maine and lobster.
There are no guarantees, said Suave. But on the other hand, he argued, “if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’re going to keep getting what you always get.”
“Eating lobster is an experience,” said Suave. “People will pay a lot of money for that experience.” He noted lobstermen are independent businessmen who have jobs that many might consider dangerous, interesting and romantic, like cowboys. “There’s a story to tell here,” said Suave.
Creating a brand identity of Maine lobster will help drive up demand, continued Suave. Marketing efforts will be directed at the food service industry, direct to consumers, and to other businesses.
Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher addressed the fishermen, making clear the governor’s position on increasing fees to create a branding campaign. “The governor is not going to get behind a fee increase for branding if there isn’t industry support from the fishermen,” said Keliher. Keliher also noted the importance of dedicating the funds specifically for the project.
Support for the project seemed widespread among attendees, though there was some debate over the best way to raise the $3 million.
The money would be raised over three years. Baines explained to the audience two potential funding plans. One increases the fees for lobster-fishing, processing and dealing licenses. These fees could be as little as $100 to a few hundred dollars for fishermen, depending on the type of license the lobsterman purchases. Dealers’ license fees would increase from $250 to $750, and processors would pay a $1,000 fee.
The other funding option, which seemed to be less popular, was to add a 25-cent fee to each trap tag, so a fisherman who buys 800 tags would pay $200, and a fisherman who buys 400 tags would pay $100.
One fisherman said there was “no way in heck” he would support an increase in trap tag fees. Fisherman Dwight Carver said he was fine with a trap tag fee, since “I should pay more as someone who fishes 800 traps than someone who fishes 500 or 600.”
Fisherman David Cousins said he didn’t care how the project was funded, just as long as it was funded and moved forward. “Even if the boat price goes up a nickel, that could make a big difference,” said Cousins. “It’s about time to do something.”
Either way, said one fisherman, “I’d be willing to spend $500 on hope.”
The project would “sunset” after five years, meaning that it would need to be explicitly reauthorized to continue.
In a show of hands, a large majority showed they were in favor of the branding effort.
The Lobster Advisory Council will meet July 18 to discuss the outcome of these public forums, and decide next steps. For more information, contact Bob Baines at 596-0177 or Annie Tselikis at 967-4555.