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Maine lobstermen stop work

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by: Nick Bart

July 16 2012

"Enough." That's what lobstermen along the Maine coast are saying in unison. The reason is simple. The price per pound of lobster offered to them by processors has dropped to $1.75. Seeing fuel and bait prices rise, the lobstermen are refusing to work longer and harder for less.

Lobstermen are quick to point out the inequities. The retail price of lobster for the consumer has not dropped. Where is the "magic" of the market place? The over supply of lobsters would diminish quickly with a lower market price. They say the only magic is the profits in the pockets of the owners of the lobster processing businesses.

Hardest hit are the stern men and stern women. While lobstermen own their boats via family heritage or bank loans, stern workers own only their labor power. They work the back of the lobster boats hauling the traps, removing the catch, marking pregnant females for throwback and rebaiting the traps. It is back breaking work. They earn 10 to 15 percent of the catch with no benefits.

The triple killers of capitalism are at work here- concentration of power (processors), the market and ecosystem imbalance or collapse.

The Bean family, of L.L. Bean fame, is an example of the continuing concentration of the lobster business in fewer and wealthier hands. Linda Bean has been buying up Lobster related businesses. In Vinalhaven, one of the lobster fishing centers along Penobscot Bay, she has purchased the Inland Co., Peter Jones and Shaft Masters.

The area is being fished intensely. In Vinalhaven alone, there are over 200 licensed fisher people. Each can lay as many as 800 traps. It is estimated there were close to 3 million traps in Maine waters before the work stoppage. Lobsters are considered fished even though they are technically crustaceans or hard-shelled animals.

Looming over the industry is the potential of market induced ecological collapse. There is a history of over fishing along the Maine coast. Cod were fished out in the 1940s. Flounder all but disappeared in the 1980s.

A further ramification has been the removal of predators of lobsters. As the lobster population has grown, the threat of disease grows with it. Ecosystem imbalance can potentially extract a high price on the industry, workers in the first place.

A good example of the perils of ecosystem imbalance comes from Africa. In the 1970s, the Gnu (wildebeest) population soared. The natural predators (like lions and crocodiles) of these hoofed animals could not keep up with the population explosion. A viral disease hit the herd, greatly reducing the numbers of Gnu.

Another wildcard is the warming of the waters in the Gulf of Maine. Water temperatures have been gradually rising since the 1870s. However, the last decade has seen rises in the 2 to 5 degrees range. The variation depends on the depth measured.

Viruses abound in ocean waters. Will the warmer waters generate a viral infection of these abundant shellfish?

Meanwhile, lobster boats are stilled while the people who do the work demand a just price for their toil.

http://www.peoplesworld.org/maine-lobstermen-stop-work/

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"Enough." That's what lobstermen along the Maine coast are saying in unison. The reason is simple. The price per pound of lobster offered to them by processors has dropped to $1.75. Seeing fuel and bait prices rise, the lobstermen are refusing to work longer and harder for less.

MUST BE FEELING THE PINCH

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Wow! Considering, lobster sells for $16.99 per pound, here, I don't blame the Lobstermen....Someone is making money and it's definitely not them.

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Wow! Considering, lobster sells for $16.99 per pound, here, I don't blame the Lobstermen....Someone is making money and it's definitely not them.

Agreed and thanks.

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Lobster glut brings down retail prices, at last

Boston Business Journal by Jay Fitzgerald, Special to the Journal, boston@bizjournals.com

Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2012, 10:45am EDT - Last Modified: Tuesday, July 17, 2012, 11:02am EDT

An unexpectedly abundant catch this spring of soft-shell lobsters has finally begun to force down the price of lobster at restaurants and retail stores – much to the delight of consumers.

“We’re doing fabulous,” said Myalisa Waring, owner of the Lobster Pool restaurant in Rockport. “We’re serving lobsters like crazy. Everyone’s coming in and talking about the prices and want lobsters.”

“I haven’t seen catches like this in years,” said Frank Ciaramitaro, co-owner of Captain Joe & Sons Inc., a Gloucester wholesale dealer that buys lobsters direct from lobstermen on the docks. “For us, it’s been a record.”

Even though lobstermen began catching higher numbers of soft-shell lobsters in early June – about a month earlier than usual, creating an unexpectedly large surplus of lobsters early in the season – the retail prices for lobsters initially and generally held steady across much of Massachusetts through last week.

A survey of area stores last week showed smaller “chicken” lobsters still going for about $7.99 per pound at some outlets, while lobstermen in Massachusetts were only getting just over $3 per pound and lobstermen in Maine were nabbing even less. Lobstermen generally need about $4 a pound to make a profit.

But over this past weekend, prices started to fall at the retail level across the state. Chicken lobsters, for instance, were selling for about $5.99 a pound at various outlets surveyed.

Bill Adler, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association and a longtime lobsterman himself, said an unusually mild winter and warm spring waters probably contributed to lobsters shedding their shells earlier than expected this spring, in late May and June, rather than in early July.

The result: Huge early catches at a time when Canadian seafood processors weren’t prepared to buy up surplus lobsters from New England and when the tourist season hadn’t fully kicked in yet, Adler said.

“It was too much for the market to bear,” he said. “There was an over-supply and the demand couldn’t keep up.”

This time last year, North Shore lobstermen were getting about $4 to $4.25 per pound for lobsters, but this year during the same period the price was about $2.75, Adler said.

In Boston, lobstermen were getting about $4.75 per pound in early July 2011; today they’re getting only about $3.25 per pound.

In Maine, the prices paid to lobstermen are even lower, below $3 a pound, and some industry officials say that lobstermen are actually only making only about $2 a pound after they subtract the price of bait, boat fuel, and other costs. The price plunge has some Maine lobstermen tying up their boats to wait out the glut, according to published reports.

Some industry officials, however, say lobstermen can actually benefit from the over-supply by making up in sales volume what they’ve lost in per-pound costs.

For now, though, it’s a buyer’s market, especially for many consumers who couldn’t afford the pre-glut prices, especially with the economy still struggling and households keeping tight reins on their finances.

“Right now, people are going wild for lobsters,” said Bob Coppersmith, owner of Docks Seafood in Portland, Maine. “It’s a frenzy.”

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