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Our View: Mainers should buy more lobsters now

8/9/2012

A glut of low-cost lobsters and a potential trade war are threatening a Maine industry.

As tensions heat up on both sides of the Canadian border over a glut of low-cost Maine lobster being kept out of New Brunswick processing plants, there is something every Maine patriot should do: Eat more lobster.

click image to enlarge

Freshly caught lobsters rest in a crate at Harbor Fish Market in Portland.

Press Herald file photo/Tim Greenway

The industry, which pumps more than $1 billion into the Maine economy each year, is not only one of our most dependable economic drivers and a steady source of employment in coastal communities, it also is our iconic product. Travel from our state and you'll inevitably hear the question, "Eat a lot of lobster?"

That's because for most of the world, Maine lobster is a luxury food, lumped in with filet mignon and caviar. Only in Maine do we see soft-shell "shedders" in our fish markets for affordable prices because they can't be shipped long distances for the live trade.

This year, the shedders came earlier, robbing Maine lobstermen of the most lucrative part of their business. The overabundance of soft-shell lobsters on the market made the price crash. Now, Canadian protests are interfering with shipping to processing plants, the only other market for these lobsters.

This dispute has rightly attracted the attention of Gov. Paul LePage and Sen. Olympia Snowe, who has called on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to intervene.

It also has revived long-range policy discussions about Maine's vulnerability because of its lack of processing facilities. Canada has a dozen plants on its side of the border, while we have only three. If warmer ocean temperatures are going to make this year's early shedding an annual event, the state should be prepared to process the lobster.

Although important, none of these efforts is likely to help Maine lobstermen right now. The biggest boost they could get would be for Maine people and their visitors to make the most of this situation and follow advice of 50 businesses bound together in the Maine Lobster Lovers Celebration, which urges all of us to take care of our neighbors by eating more lobster. If only it were always this easy to help.