Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance: Getting a handle on lobster quality

First published in Landings, July, 2013.

A cracked carapace costs everyone money. Ensuring that the lobsters landed are in the best shape possible is one way to prompt a better price. MLA photo.

A cracked carapace costs everyone money. Ensuring that the lobsters landed are in the best shape possible is one way to prompt a better price. MLA photo.

Product quality and handling. It’s the newest buzzword in the business – and with good reason. It is estimated that the Maine lobster industry alone loses about 20% of the product landed as a result of shrinkage. That 20% loss is felt through the entire supply chain and is factored into the boat price. Dealers base the boat price, in part, on what they expect to lose. Many people in the industry – from fishermen to live dealers to processors – have noted that as the volume of landings has increased over the last several years, the quality has decreased. The same is true for the Canadian Maritimes which report an average shrinkage rate of 8-10%. As everyone works faster in order to move higher volume, sound handling practices are easily overlooked. As the industry searches to improve profits, some of the volume – and profit – currently lost to shrinkage can be recouped through improved handling practices.

MLA and Maine Sea Grant offered a product quality and handling session as a component of the TAA program. “Over 1200 TAA participants from Maine have taken that particular training, but one of the things that we heard loud and clear as we delivered the workshop was that everyone who handles a lobster in Maine should take the training. So now we want to go one step further and en courage the entire supply chain to participate,” explained program coordinator Annie Tselikis.

MLCA will be delivering a new lobster quality training this summer to fishermen, dock workers, dealers, truckers, processors and anyone else interested in participating. “At this time, it is really important that we do everything we can to get everyone in the industry on the same page with regard to handling practices,” explained Tselikis. “There seems to be a lot of inconsistency in the way the product is handled along the coast. Many fishermen are frustrated that they may take very good care of their lobsters, while the guy who lands right after him is not nearly as careful. At the end of the day, the entire lot moves through the supply chain as a unit, so we’re all in this together. We want to create a system that rewards improved handling.”

MLCA will launch a new lobster quality program this summer to include a limited discussion of the lobster market, the economic impact of shrinkage, options for improving quality both on the boat and at the dock, and reasons to improve shrinkage and to improve the marketability of the product.

Shrinkage chartIn the fall, MLCA plans to partner with Jean Lavallee of Aquatic Science and Health Services of Prince Edward Island. Seen as the preeminent lobster vet – Jean has delivered his training program nearly sixty times around Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland with great success. He will be available to offer further training and explain lobster biology as it pertains to the quality of the product. The ultimate goal of the program is to develop a voluntary certification system at the dock level that can be used as an additional marketing tool. “This is a positive step forward for all of us in the lobster industry right now,” said Tselikis.