Transportation another economic benefit of lobstering

First published in the MLA Newsletter, December, 2011

Lobstering in Maine is big business, not just for the lobstermen who land many millions of pounds each year, but for multiple other businesses that keep those lobstermen afloat. Among these, transportation of lobster and other seafood has become a large, if largely hidden, part of Maine’s coastal economy.

Last year 93 million pounds of lobster were transported out of Maine. Melissa Waterman photo.

Transporting Maine’s 93 million pounds of lobster last year provided employment to many small trucking firms as well as independent drivers of all description. Ready Seafood of Portland, for example, contracts with Pray Trucking, N.W. Diamond, Peninsula and several other trucking firms to run shipments to Boston throughout the season. “We lease three to six trucks depending on the season,” said Mike Norad, Ready Seafood office manager.

Garbo Seafood employs seven tractor-trailer drivers to move its Maine lobsters to distribution centers or processing facilities in Groton, Connecticut, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. “We own or lease the trucks,” Pete Daley, Maine general manager for Garbo Seafood. “We run trucks every day, at least two to three, both to the north and the south.”

Inland Seafood, a major lobster buyer based in Atlanta, Georgia, owns or leases two tractor-trailers and two smaller trucks to move Maine lobsters out of state. “We buy mostly in downeast Maine,” explained Pauline Domrad, office manager. “We transfer the lobsters to the South Portland facility and then send them to Boston daily. Once a week we send a tractor-trailer down to Georgia.”

Which leads to a key point:  it costs money to move lobster. At each station of the transportation route, people handle the lobsters. Those people are also paid money.

Lobster, shellfish, salmon: it all must be moved out of the state to market, providing trucking firms a good business. Photo courtesy of Pray Trucking.

“A driver might make between $45,000 to $50,000 a year. Mind you, that salary hasn’t changed in twenty years!” said Kenny Moir, Boston operations manager for Pray Trucking, with a laugh. In the background one hears the rumbling of large trucks idling in the company’s garage.

“It’s a substantial cost,” Domrad admitted. “We lease some trucks, then they [the truck company] charge us for the reefer use (refrigerator). Then there’s mileage and fuel costs. When you add in the cost to sort and to pack the lobsters in boxes with gel packs, it’s pretty expensive.” One of Inland Seafood’s drivers, who asked not to be named in print, said that a trip to Boston in one of the smaller trucks would cost about $172 in fuel and about $150 in salary. “And that’s one way,” he added.

Norad estimated that the cost to sort, package and then transport his lobsters to Boston and elsewhere adds 50 cents to $1.50 per pound depending on the fuel price. Daley estimated it costs his company at least 10 cents a pound to move the lobsters. Siros Tourkakis., executive vice-president of East Coast Seafood, also said that he must add 10 cents to the price of the lobster per pound in order to break even on transportation costs.

Will the ever-increasing landings of lobster in Maine cause a transportation bottleneck some time in the future? That’s hard to answer. Most large lobster buying companies employee their own drivers to operate their leased or owned fleet of trucks and find no lack of applicants for those jobs. Smaller lobster companies, such as Ready Seafood, find many smaller trucking companies eager to be part of the flow of lobsters and other seafood from the state. As long as the lobsters keep coming, there will be employment to be had moving them promptly to market.