Maine’s top fisheries official says lobstermen likely landed about 100 million pounds of the state’s signature crustacean in 2019, which is about 16 percent less than the year before but not as bad as had been predicted.

“Earlier in the season it looked like it could be bad,” said Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher on Maine Public’s “Maine Calling” radio show. “They caught a lot of lobsters in the last few months of the year and made up a lot of ground.”

Keliher told the show’s hosts that initial landing reports suggest the lobster industry would finish 2019 with a 100 million-pound harvest. If that number holds, it would be 16 percent lower than 2018’s 119.6 million pounds landed, and nearly 15 percent less than the five-year average.

That year-end lobster harvest would be the lowest Maine has recorded since 2010, when fishermen landed 96.2 million pounds of lobster. The catch every other year of the decade has surpassed 100 million pounds, with a peak harvest of 132.6 million pounds in 2016.

While definitely low, the 2019 harvest was not as bad as it looked in the fall, when Keliher told the American Lobster Management Board that Maine had caught less than 50 million pounds of lobster in the first nine months of the year, a 40 percent decline in year-over-year landings.

At the time, Keliher attributed the decline to a late molt. The bulk of Maine’s lobster fleet catches shedders, whose “new shells” are just starting to firm up after they have shed their old ones. A late molt can delay the start of the best fishing, which usually occurs August through November.

“That doesn’t mean the sky is falling,” he said then. “That means we certainly had a very big delay.”

Maine has been enjoying a lobster boom over the last decade. Since 2018, Keliher and others have been warning fishermen that the industry should not bank on sustaining such record-breaking landings, and warned that what went up would undoubtedly have to come down.

On Tuesday, Keliher said Maine’s most valuable fishery, which had a dock value of $485 million in 2018, seemed to be in good shape. Landings remain high when compared to the last 20 years. Surveys indicate baby lobsters are expanding their habitat, and traps are full of juveniles.

“We’re seeing no real flashing red flights or red flags, other than landings tipping down a little bit,” he told caller Genevieve McDonald, a Stonington lobster fisher who also serves as that region’s state representative. “I remain cautiously optimistic.”

Keliher did share some good news – state data suggests the 2019 dock price of lobster was higher than 2018. He didn’t cite specifics, but called it “a good thing” that could help offset the financial impact of a smaller harvest on some of Maine’s 4,000 commercial fishermen.

A department spokesman would not provide additional details Tuesday, noting the agency would be auditing 2019 landing reports over the next couple months. The agency traditionally releases the lobster landings at the annual Maine Fishermen’s Forum in March.

Keliher appeared on the hour-long state news show to talk about his department’s new proposal to reduce the risk of an endangered right whale becoming entangled in rope that connects lobster traps set on the ocean floor to surface-level fishing buoys. Only about 400 right whales remain.

 

 

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