The Portland Press Herald

A manufacturing problem has delayed the production of license tags for lobster traps, forcing hundreds of lobstermen in New England to wait weeks to set their traps for the season.

Stoffel Seals, a division of TydenBrooks of Congers, N.Y., said a machine breakdown in May delayed production of the plastic tags. It expects to be on its regular shipment schedule before the end of July.

Normally, it takes 15 business days for lobstermen to get the numbered, color-coded tags. Stoffel said it’s now taking an additional 10 to 12 business days. However, the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association said it was told that the company is eight weeks behind schedule.

Stoffel, which supplies lobstermen in New England and Canada, said it doesn’t know how many tags were delayed.


“Any other year, a delay would not be as big of an issue,” said Lyman Kennedy of Falmouth, who fishes 600 traps out of Union Wharf in Portland. But with soft-shell lobsters abundant early this year, he estimates that he will miss out on $15,000 to $20,000 by having to wait to set his traps.

“My sternman’s out of money, too,” he said. “That’s two families out of money.”

Maine’s 4,500 lobstermen are required to have license tags on their traps by June 1. The delay has affected more than 100 of them, said Joseph Fessenden, chief of the Maine Marine Patrol.

Fessenden said he doesn’t know the total number of traps that must be kept out of the water. A commercial lobsterman can fish with as many as 800 traps.

Because of Stoffel’s manufacturing problems, the Maine Department of Marine Resources has bent its rules. Lobstermen will be allowed to set their traps four weeks after they order tags, so if the tags remain unavailable, the lobstermen can fish without fear of having their traps seized, Fessenden said.

“It’s been a struggle for a lot of people,” he said. “The majority of fisherman got their tags. But for whatever reason — whether it’s the expense or a personal issue — some people ordered later and they are without tags. We showed some flexibility.”


The tags cost 50 cents each, so a lobsterman who fishes 800 traps pays $400 to the state.

Brian McLain, who fishes for lobsters off Pemaquid Point, said he didn’t order his grandson’s tags early enough to avoid the disruption. As a result, his grandson Jared McLain can’t set his 40 traps yet, so he’s behind schedule for his short summer vacation.

“He may not make enough to meet his expenses for the season,” said McLain. “Lobsters are so early this year, there may be another batch, so he may get lucky.”

Brian McLain, who fishes with 600 traps, ordered his own license tags in December so he got them in time.

Maine and Massachusetts are the nation’s two leading lobster harvesters. The delay is hurting about 100 lobstermen in Massachusetts, said Beth Casoni, associate executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association.

The state’s Division of Marine Fisheries has given leeway to lobstermen who ordered their tags, Casoni said.


Kennedy said he appreciates that Maine has bent its rules to allow fishing after four weeks, but the wait is still hurting his ability to pay his rent and putting stress on him, especially with his daughter’s wedding coming up.

“Rules are rules. I get that. But here we are in tough times. The four weeks is a real financial hardship,” Kennedy said. “There’s a bad economy and there’s guys out.”

Fessenden said Stoffel did not disclose the manufacturing problem in May. “Why wouldn’t you notify people about that?” he said. “I’m not happy.”

He said Stoffel executives will come to Maine on July 1 to discuss the problem.

Stoffel said it expects to return to its normal schedule of shipping in 15 business days before the end of July.

“We had a machine breakdown that caused us to lose time in production during a critically busy period,” said Ralph Mallozzi, vice president of sales and marketing for TydenBrooks Security Products Group, which owns Stoffel. “We regret and apologize for the disruption this has caused and appreciate the patience of the industry and the state while we quickly fix this issue.”

Maine’s contract with Stoffel is up for renewal this year, Fessenden said.

Stoffel, which has made tags for the state since 1996, declined to comment specifically on whether the problem would jeopardize its future contracts.

“Our company has been the supplier of these tags for nearly 20 years, with a very solid record of service to the industry, both in Maine, the other New England States and Canada,” Mallozzi said. “As for contract renewals, that is and always has been the decision of the state, and our company does whatever is necessary to support the fishery.”

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