A Colby Community Website for ST297, Fall 2018

Author: Mikayla McLaughlin

The Future for Maine Seafood

  The state of Maine economy depends on seafood from the Gulf of Maine. Luckily, the sustainability of the lobster industry in Maine has not wavered over the last few years. This industry remains as the largest agricultural output, just ahead of potatoes. Although that is good news, the seafood industry within the state as a whole, beyond just lobsters, shows evidence of a decrease in populations of key species over the past few years. This is due to the rise of water temperatures. In response to these low catches, the sustainability of these species has come into question and action to manage them has been taken. In addition to the lowering catches, recent policy changes have made the continuing success of the seafood industry in Maine more difficult.

  In my lifetime alone numerous industries have suffered due to environmental factors. The marine ecosystem is no different as the influence of global warming, invasive species, and the rise of sea levels has taken its toll. Lobsters are extremely impacted by sea temperatures and in 2010 the gulf of Maine experienced the most optimal temperatures for lobster harvesting; therefore, increasing the survival, growth, and population of this species. Since that year studies have shown that the populations are declining and will soon return back to the more normal size catches that lobstermen are were used to prior. Some believe that this optimal water temperature drove the lobsters from Southern New England and New York waters into the gulf of Maine and will soon drive those lobsters even further North into Canada. Figure 1 shows a study completed by the Maine Research Institute on how the populations will proceed in the future years if the marine environments continue to change at the same rate.

  In another study completed by seven members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, presents a different opinion. This group stated that because of the warming waters a huge predator of colder water lobsters, cod, has been eliminated from the Gulf of Maine. Cod feeds on baby lobsters and with their species moving North to seek colder waters, the lobsters population has had a stronger advantage than they have in the past. A similar phenomenon was studied of the coast of Long Island when their water temperatures rose. The black sea bass and striped sea bass pray on lobsters in warmer waters than cod. Their numbers increased on Long Island and drove the lobsters into colder waters to escape these predators. The Gulf of Maine seemed to hit the most ideal temperature between these predator species in 2010, allowing them more hospitable habitats in the water temperature in the gulf of Maine. Furthermore, as water temperatures rise there is an increase in waterborne diseases, such as black shell disease that have the ability to kill off lobster populations.

  A subject that was not explored within this research was the increase in industrializing unexplored species and invasive species. The two species that threaten the marine ecosystem the most are the green crab and codium. The green crab typically takes over the habitats of the peekytoe and rock crab populations, whereas the codium is a spongy green algae that covers shellfish beds hindering the shell fish’s ability to grow in these areas. These species have hurt these populations in addition to weather related incidents. Also growing in terms of size is the interest in industrializing seaweed species. Rather than having a negative impact on seafood that the invasive species have, the seaweed industry is actually aiding in keeping lobster habitats in the Gulf of Maine hospitable. Similar to the forests we have on land, seaweeds and eelgrass, aid in reducing carbon dioxide pollution and therefore are keeping the acidic balance in the ocean. Without this buffer system, the ocean acidity is increasing, which hinders the growth of species that rely on carbonate to grow their shells for protection such as crabs and lobsters.

  This past year another large factor has begun to affect this Maine industry, President Trump announced that the United States entered a trade war with China. The result of this was a twenty-five percent tariff on United States lobsters imported to China. This decreased the value of exported lobster by sixty-four percent in just one year and dropped the profits of these exports by over seven million dollars. As of now, the majority of lobsters being shipped to China are from Maine because Canada has not been catching nearly the numbers that Maine has. Many local fisherman as well as wholesale businesses have seen the impact of these tariffs and many have had to lay off workers because of it. China also implemented that all packages being received from the United States have to be manually checked rather than pre-checked. This means that live lobsters are being left at inspection stations for days, leaving them more likely to be spoiled by the time they get to their final destination.

  Another large market for the selling of Maine lobsters internationally has been Europe, which has also begun to decrease for other reasons. Canada recently created a brand new trade deal with Europe that puts the United States in another disadvantage. With these two recent downfalls, the future of the industry is now more dependent on its ability to increase the domestic market rather than the international one.

  The majority of the news pertaining to the future of Maine seafood is negative. Although this is true, there is some hope. The addition of the up and coming seaweed industry and the implementing of more control over the amount of fish being exported overseas are moves in the correct direction. The governmental policies explored could have a positive effect on the growth of the lobster species over time as the demand may decrease. This would leave more lobsters in the sea to reproduce. This process will take time, but we can all hope for a better future for the seafood industry as more steps are being taken globally to combat climate change.


Work Cited:

“Maine Real Estate.” Maine Economy – Facts and Figures, Maine Home Connection, www.mainehomeconnection.com/MaineEconomy.

Overton, Penelope. “Gulf of Maine Lobster Population Past Its Peak, Study Says, and a Big Drop Is Due.” Portland Press Herald, Portland Press Herald, 23 Jan. 2018, www.pressherald.com/2018/01/22/lobster-boom-over-as-population-starts-to-decline/.

The Associated Press. “Maine Lobster Industry Looks to Grow US Market While Tariffs Drive down Demand Overseas.” Bangor Daily News, Bangor Daily News, 20 Sept. 2018, bangordailynews.com/2018/09/20/business/maine-lobster-industry-looks-to-grow-us-market-while-tariffs-drive-down-demand-overseas/.

The BDN Editorial Board. “How Maine Lobsters’ Future Could Depend on Seaweed That Surrounds Them.” Bangor Daily News, Bangor Daily News, 4 Jan. 2016, bangordailynews.com/2016/01/04/opinion/editorials/how-maine-lobsters-future-could-depend-on-seaweed-that-surrounds-them/.

Valigra, Lori. “Maine Lobster Exports to China Fell Steeply in July as Trump Trade War Intensified.” Bangor Daily News, Bangor Daily News, 10 Sept. 2018, bangordailynews.com/2018/09/10/business/maine-lobster-exports-to-china-fell-steeply-in-july-as-trump-trade-war-intensified/.

Woodard, Colin. “Gulf of Maine Will Become Too Warm for Many Key Fish, Report Says.” Press Herald, Portland Press Herald, 21 May 2017, www.pressherald.com/2017/05/21/gulf-of-maine-will-become-too-warm-for-many-key-fish-report-says/.

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). 


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.


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.