Global Food, Health, and Society

A Colby Community Website for ST297, Fall 2018

Maine’s Seafood Industry: From Trash to Delicacy

Since the 1970s, my family has had a very close connection to the fishing industry in the state of Maine. My family has enjoyed recreational fishing as well as experiencing the commercial side of fishing as it pertains to our retail seafood market, McLaughlin Seafood which is located in Bangor, Maine. Even though I did not really have a say, I was brought up loving seafood of every kind and still love it today. By the age of fifteen I was driving to and from the coast of Maine loading the company’s truck with thousands of pounds of lobsters to be sold within the week. However, a lot has changed since then. Laws and regulations in Maine have become more strict due to a decline in the sustainability of some marine life. This is a repercussion we must face as a result of the world attempting to industrialize the marine wildlife of Maine in order to sustain global populations.

When it comes to marine fishing in the state of Maine, the lobster industry is the most well known. Colonization began in the 1600s, when lobsters were washing up on beaches of Maine in large masses. They were considered a “trash food” that was consumed by the poor and was even used to feed prisoners. It was not until the 1820s that this began to change. At this time, lobsters were exported to other New England states by boat. Canning, along with the expansion of the railroad, began around the mid 1800s, which allowed Maine to export lobster all over the states for the same low rates. Interest in the food was growing and the price soared just as the great depression hit the country in the 1920s. This meant that the only people who could afford lobster at this time were the wealthy. Without the market for sales, lobster was rationed and shipped to troops fighting overseas in World War II. After the war, it was deemed a delicacy once again and still continues to be to this day (2). 

Lobster

World War II was the first instant in history that lobster was shipped internationally, and since then the phenomenon has only grown. According to one of Maine’s top newspapers, the Portland Press Harold, “In 2017, more than 336 million dollars worth of lobster were exported from the state and sent into the international market. A majority of these lobsters land in China and other emerging middle-class countries” (1).  Although the state has the most strict laws regarding lobster fishing, it exports more than all of the other lobster fishing states in the United States. These laws include a zero tolerance for notched reproducing females, a limit on the lowest number of traps allowed per permit, and a limit on the smallest maximum carapace size allowed (4). These laws, among others, are what results in Maine having the lowest number of available lobsters to keep and sell. Beyond the lobster industry, there are other marine species that have become heavily regulated as a result of sustainability trends in Maine. These species include shrimp, scallops, halibut and salmon.

The first of these species, shrimp, is illegal to fish in Maine since its population was deemed depleted in 2013. Maine shrimp are a popular New England food because they are characterized as small and sweet. The population’s plummet could be caused by multiple reasons, however, they can only be caught in Maine yet are enjoyed all over New England. Therefore, it is likely the industrialization of the species is a cause. Scallops have also been affected by Maine’s regulations. Maine imports scallops year round from other states because the Maine scallop season is limited to December to April. The scallop fisheries are put into zones within the state and accessibility of fishing each zone is rotated yearly based on the sustainability of the populations there. These regulation are in response to the heavy fishing that takes place on Maine coast by federally licensed boats, rather than just the Maine licensed ones. In recent years, scallop counts have begun to rebound on the Maine coast, but the amount that federal boats fish them it could cause a depletion to reoccur. In 2018, the federal licensed boats will also have to abide to catch limits in regulated zones (3). Prior to this year, these larger boats were not limited in their catch amount in the Maine zones like the Maine licensed boats were.

Scallop Harvesting

Halibut is another species that has had their sustainability questioned recently. Maine also has strict laws pertaining to this species for this reason. They have limited the commercial tags available for licensed fishermen and shortened the season from year round to just May to June.

The final fish in Maine that has experienced similar changes is salmon. This species transformed from being a wild-caught and farm raised fish to being just a farm raised fish in terms of all Atlantic salmon sold commercially. This occurred in 2002 after the number of these fish in the water systems plummeted. They have begun to rise in numbers, yet fishing for wild Atlantic salmon is still prohibited on the East coast.

Halibut

Atlantic Salmon

 

 

 

 

As seen in these examples, the fishing industry has grown throughout the years as more and more people begin to understand the health benefits. This increase of demand has caused the sustainability of many species to be questioned. Many people believe that lobsters are Maine’s only important industry, but as we see the decline of these other species we also see how much Maine relies on all of their seafood exports and not just lobsters.

 

Work Cited:

  1. McGuire, Peter. “Concern That Maine Lobster Will Get Caught up in Trade War Brings Congressional Delegation Together.” Press Herald, 2 June 2018, www.pressherald.com/2018/06/01/maine-lawmakers-expect-frank-discussion-on-lobster-exports-with-u-s-trade-negotiators/.
  2. “The Triumphant Tail of the New England Lobster.” Weathervane Seafood Restaurants, 29 June 2015, weathervaneseafoods.com/new-england-lobster-history/.
  3. Trotter, Bill. “New Scallop Catch Limits Could Ease Tensions in Northern Gulf of Maine.” Bangor Daily News, Bangor Daily News, 1 Mar. 2018, bangordailynews.com/2018/03/01/business/fisheries/new-scallop-catch-limits-could-ease-tensions-in-northern-gulf-of-maine/.
  4. United States, Congress, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NOAA Fisheries. “American Lobster Information Sheet.” American Lobster Information Sheet, Sustainable Fisheries Division, 2018.

2 Comments

  1. Mikayla,

    Thank you for sharing a bit of your family history as it correlates to the Maine seafood industry, it was great to hear about your personal connection to Maine. I never knew that Lobsters were once considered a food for those less fortunate, and it’s quite funny how they have become one of the most famous delicacies New Englanders consume. It’s very sad to read that the popularity of this delicacy, along with other Maine seafood exports has led to the doubt of sustainability of fishing practices, and I hope we can find a way to sustainably harvest and consume this wildlife. Very well written, and I hope I can learn more about what I can do to support sustainable fishing practices!

    -Alan Clymer

  2. Meredith Allen

    11/09/2018 at 4:35 pm

    I really enjoyed reading about the Maine seafood industry and your family’s experiences with recent regulations attempting to make the industry more sustainable. I liked your description of how lobster has become such a delicacy throughout the world and even in Maine. I’ve always been fascinated when restaurants outside of New England serve lobster dishes because they seem so far removed from the lobster industry, and I wouldn’t expect the quality to be nearly as great as getting it almost straight off the boat in Maine or Massachusetts. It’s definitely sad to think about how all these species of fish have become such important parts of our diets, yet our consumption of them threatens their future. I look forward to learning more about your experiences and seafood in Maine!

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