The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative (MLMC) was established in 2013 by an act of the Maine Legislature. While the statute is wide-ranging,
there is one line that has significant impact on the MLMC’s activities: “This section is repealed Oct. 1, 2018.” If the Legislature does not act, the Collaborative will cease operations on October 1.
Four years ago, the MLMC began to create a robust marketing effort that we could measure and that would ultimately create value for the industry. At the outset, there were many voices and opinions about what we should do and how we should do it. Some were convinced this was a silly experiment that ought to be stopped. When asked during the hearing in 2013 how the Legislature would know if the effort was worth it and ought to be continued, DMR Commissioner Keliher said, “The fishermen will let you know.”
At the end of last summer, the MLMC Board directed me to attend a meeting of every Lobster Zone Council to explain what we had done so the Zone Councils would have enough information to make a recommendation about the MLMC to the Lobster Advisory Council (LAC), which in turn would make a recommendation to the Legislature.
Many fishermen attended these Zone Council meetings throughout the coast. We presented how the MLMC started, the research we did to create a marketing strategy, and the tactics used to drive demand for and awareness of Maine lobster. We explained our measurements and our results.
After we completed speaking to every Zone Council, we made the same presentation to the LAC. Each Zone Council and then the LAC took a vote on what to recommend: should there be a MLMC going forward? Every Zone Council voted to support. In fact, after presenting to all the Zones, only two council members in total voted against continuing the MLMC. Only two “No” votes from the whole state. Next the LAC voted unanimously to support continuation of the MLMC.
While we are proud that we have reached nearly four billion people in the last two years, it is equally gratifying that the lobstermen in the state of Maine support our efforts and believe that we are adding value to the industry.
After the LAC vote, the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources invited the MLMC to present its program to them. After several hours of presentation and questions and answers, the committee scheduled a public hearing to consider a bill to extend the Collaborative. The Committee accepts all public comment at these hearings and asks people to speak “for the bill,” “against the bill,” or “neutral.” When Committee chair Senator Joyce Maker opened the floor for public comment, about 20 people rose to be heard in favor of continuing the Collaborative. No one stood in opposition. The Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the Maine Lobstering Union, and the Maine Lobster Dealers Association all spoke in support of the marketing effort.
While there is widespread support for marketing, there is no shortage of discussion about how we do it. The MLMC Board (four lobstermen, three dealers, two state department commissioners, and two at-large members) wrestles with these issues all the time. During this reauthorization process, it appears that the industry is reengaged and willing to step up and offer to help. This is exactly what we hoped for when we started: a recognition that our marketing efforts add value—no matter how hard that value is to capture given the complexity of the supply chain—and that more industry voices will only make the effort more effective.
After the public hearing, the Committee scheduled a work session to discuss fine-tuning the final bill. At that session, the Committee voted nearly unanimously (there was one “No” vote) to extend the MLMC for three more years. They suggested some governance changes to make sure that the voices that have been recently engaged stay that way. From here, the bill will be redrafted to incorporate the changes the Committee voted on and then referred to the House and Senate for consideration. If both Houses of the Legislature vote in favor, the bill will be referred to the Governor for his signature.
It has been a long process. The lobster industry demands and deserves results and well-thought-out plans. This is good as well as challenging. Too few of us have the time to be educated on all the things that affect our lives. But it is encouraging that when we explained the MLMC’s activities to groups, every single group supported continuing the Collaborative. It is a simple truth: marketing drives consumer demand. And demand is the lifeblood of the Maine lobster industry.