Guest Column: Price of lobster

First published in the MLA Newsletter, November, 2011

David Cousens is a lobsterman from South Thomaston. The following is his personal opinion, not that of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

David Cousens lobsters out of South Thomaston.

The one consistent theme I’ve heard all year is the lobster price is too low. I totally agree the price is too low, but bitching about how low the price is isn’t going to make it go up. It’s time to shit or get off the pot.

The governor’s Task Force laid out a plan to increase demand for lobster by putting together a new entity to market and tell the story of how sustainable and healthy our product is. To do this you need money. They recommended to do it right you would need 7-10 million dollars a year. I think this is in the ballpark of what we should be striving to do. How to fund it? Well, I don’t think the feds have any free money floating around, and I don’t think the state does either. So that leaves it up to us. If we put a nickel a pound surcharge on at the first point of sale,  that would raise roughly 5 million dollars which would be a good start.

I can hear people saying we can’t afford to do that. I think you can’t afford to do nothing any longer. We all know the economy is weak but look what scallops and groundfish have done in the last year. These are similar products and scallops stayed around $10 a pound and groundfish, according to NMFS, have gone up 17% in value this year. The price of lobster has declined about 20% in value this year. If you look at any big business they have a budget built into their business plan to market their product. For example, look at Ford and Chevy trucks. How much do you think they spend on marketing their products a year? I’ll bet it is 5% to 10% of their gross revenue. Lobster is a billion dollar a year industry to the state of Maine and we spend roughly $300,000 a year on promotion. That is less than 0.03% on promotion.

With the costs of lobstering going up every year and the price of lobster at roughly $3.00 a pound, it’s lucky for us we are at record catches. If we were at 50 million pounds a year we would all be out of business. I believe the time to act is now. If you are lobstering, then you are seeing all the little lobsters on bottom. It sure looks to me like the next four or five year classes are going to be strong. So if we don’t increase demand for our product, do you really believe there is any incentive for the buyers to increase price?

To sum up, I know that lobster fishermen in this state are very independent people who can rarely agree on anything as a group. But one thing they can agree on is that they would like more money for their product. I believe that the only way you can get an increase in the price for lobster is to increase demand. Then the buyers have to compete for the product. As it stands right now, everyone is getting all the product they need and there’s no incentive to bring the price up.

I’m ready to take a leap of faith and put some money into our business to market our product and increase demand. What’s the alternative? Do nothing and hope for 100 million pounds every year.