The very first bill introduced in the Massachusetts Senate this year would modernize the state’s lobster processing rules and could result in a big expansion of lobster processing in New Bedford.

The bill, introduced by Gloucester-based Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and co-sponsored by other coastal legislators, would allow the processing of raw frozen lobster parts in Massachusetts.

Under current law, possession of live, cooked, and canned or packaged lobster is allowed, but the possession of uncooked or frozen lobster parts is not. The original premise was to prevent harvesters from illegally ripping the tails off undersized lobsters.

But the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries has produced a report showing that in other states, such as Maine, the economic benefit of the change was huge, and there was no increase in illegal fishing of smaller lobsters or attempts to subvert lobster conservation.

A Dec. 31 report notes that Maine law changed in 2009 to allow the processing and sale of shell-on lobster parts.

“These changes have resulted in the development of new (Maine) businesses and the creation of new jobs throughout the seafood processing and distribution chain,” the report states. It notes that there are 18 licensed processors in Maine that produce detached lobster parts as value-added seafood products.

Under existing laws, Massachusetts lobstermen and seafood vendors are required to sell or transport lobster out-of-state for processing and then bring them back for sale to consumers in the Bay State – often with a “Product of Canada” label.

Massachusetts lands about 11 percent of the domestic lobster catch, and Maine lands about 80 percent.

“Our state has the second-largest lobster catch in the country, yet without this bill, raw and frozen lobster parts are processed in Canada or Maine only to then be brought back to our local consumers,” said Tarr. “This bill modernizes those lobster laws to bolster the fishing industry and give consumers, including local restaurants and food stores, more choices, all while sustainably supporting coastal fishing communities.”

“This report highlights that there is zero reason to further delay legislation to eliminate archaic restrictions on lobster processing. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to once again pass this bill so that businesses may finally expand and create jobs, especially in New Bedford,” said Sen. Mark Montigny, lead co-sponsor of the legislation.

Up to 80 percent of lobsters landed in the state are sent to out-of-state processing facilities. Industry leaders say the change in the law would facilitate opportunities to create and grow jobs in the state.

The proposed change drew support from the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association and seafood businesses.

“East Coast Seafood Group, the world’s largest processor of lobster and headquartered in Topsfield, is pleased with the tremendous progress made by Sen. Tarr and the plan’s supporters,” said Bob Blais, vice president of East Coast Seafood Group.

The city seems well positioned for increased production if the law passes. While lobster processors in Canada struggle with a shortage of workers that has at times curtailed output, New Bedford has no such problem. The port has an excellent immigrant labor force and labor shortages are not an issue for processor expansion there.

The city also has all the infrastructure of a major fish-processing center, including cold storage, transportation and unused plant capacity.

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