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Meeting Roundup: August 2012

MLA Directors Meeting July 10, Belfast – The MLA Directors meeting opened with a discussion of the lobster fishing season with reports from each harbor noting varying volume and quality along the coast. There were several reports of coops voting not to fish, individuals stating that they had decided not to haul, and reports from south of Casco Bay indicating most lobstermen hauling on their normal schedules. MLA staff noted an extremely high volume of calls from the media. However, the association has not gone on the record due to the fact that MLA is a trade association and has no role in the marketplace. The MLA will put out a written statement to remind the press and the public of MLA’s status as a trade association and emphasize that this season’s experience underscores the need for the State of Maine to take a hard look at how lobsters harvested in Maine move from the dock to consumers. DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher, Deputy Commissioner Meredith Mendelson, and Director of Marine Policy Deirdre Gilbert discussed the state’s perspective on the recent poor lobster market conditions. Commissioner Keliher reported that the state received a multitude of calls from both harvesters and dealers urging the state to shut down the fishery. After an in-depth analysis of state statues and anti-trust laws, it was determined that the state of Maine has no authority to intervene in the market. The Commissioner has kept the Governor and his staff fully briefed on these issues. The Commissioner stated that the current situation can only be resolved if the industry comes together to look at long-term solutions. The DMR plans to initiate this discussion through the Lobster Advisory Council, stating that all ideas will be on the table, including trap reductions, seasons, gauge changes, days out, etc, and that the conversation must be inclusive and transparent. Several Directors expressed their opinion that the early shed may not be a one time phenomenon. Others agreed with the Commissioner that the industry must look at fundamental management changes, noting that our current management system was established for a 20 million pound fishery, not a 100 million pound fishery. The Commissioner was questioned on the issue of adding processing capacity in Maine. He responded that the Department of Economic and Community Development is working with a large company who is interested in establishing a processing facility in Southern Maine, and there has been interest in the old Stinson Plant in Gouldsboro. Bob Baines provided a brief update on the outreach meetings conducted by the Lobster Advisory Council Marketing Subcommittee in June. He reported that while attendance was lower than hoped, those who participated asked good questions and the majority were in favor of the marketing proposal. The LAC will meet on July 18 to discuss next steps in moving a proposal forward. Following the discussion, MLA Directors and members entered into executive session with MLA legal counsel. The MLA Board voted to keep the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) separate from the newly formed Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance (MLCA), a non-profit whose mission is to foster thriving coastal communities and preserve Maine’s lobstering heritage. The MLA will remain solely focused on advocating for responsible resource management and prosperity for Maine’s commercial lobstermen. The MLA Board approved the MLA membership renewal proposal, supporting a 25% increase in dues. There was much discussion on raising MLA dues during tough economic times. However, the dues are set at the minimum amount needed for the MLA to meet its operating budget. This year’s budget includes hiring a Policy Director to allow the MLA to meet the growing demand for industry advocacy on federal regulatory issues such as whales, bait, lobster management, etc. The Policy Director will also be needed to assist with the large array of lobster and budget issues expected to come before the Maine Legislature in Augusta this winter.  The meeting adjourned at 8:00 and the next meeting is scheduled for September 4.

Lobster Research, Education, and Development Fund July 18, Hallowell – The RED Board manages the Lobster Research, Education and Development Fund which raises an average of $250,000 annually through the sale of Maine’s lobster license plates. As of June 30, 2012, the available RED Fund balance was approximately $550,000. The RED Board approved funding to the lobster monitoring program in support of the state’s lobster sea sampling, ventless trap, settlement index and model development programs in the amount of $125,000 per year for the next 5 years. This represents just under one half of the annual cost of these essential monitoring programs. The RED Board will review the funding status of these programs after 3 years. This funding is needed due to drastic cuts in the federal funds which were previously used to support these programs. Should federal or additional state funding become available again in the future, those sources will be used instead of the RED Fund. The RED Board approved a $25,000 retainer for the Maine Department of Resources to be used to secure the services of a fish pathologist, to assist the state in implementing its bait safety regulations. Currently the state does not have a pathologist on staff, however, the DMR hopes to share a fish pathologist position with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in the near future. The RED Board approved $12,000 funding to the MLA newsletter over one year to support the development of educational content and distribution of the paper to all Maine commercial lobstermen. The RED Board has funds already committed to support several projects including research on lobster growth and aging, retail and marketing campaigns through the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, and support for a Lobster Science Symposium. The RED Board plans to convene again in August to discuss setting funding priorities and the potential to develop requests for proposals to meet those priorities.

Lobster Advisory Council July 18, Hallowell – The LAC discussed this year’s lobster season and the widespread frustration amongst harvesters over lack of profitability. LAC members provided an update on the lobster fishery in their area, commenting on supply and quality. Pete McAleney stated that the crisis began before Father’s Day with the early shed, and that Canada already has 50% of the product they need in inventory. Those who do not market their own product and sell straight to Canadian processors will deal with weak demand throughout this season. Dana Rice stated that there is a lot of product being held and many will take big losses on shrinkage. LAC Chair Bob Baines suggested that the LAC take the lead in reviewing this year’s crisis and identify ways to improve the industry. Issues that require discussion include harvester profitability, quality of the product and timing of supply. The LAC members brainstormed various ideas identified in their areas such as investing in chillers to improve shippability, taking additional days out of the fishery, or setting standard prices similar to what is done with milk. There was a suggestion to form a Commission comprised of government, harvesters and dealers which could shut the fishery down if there is a future crisis. The Commissioner stated that he does not support government intervention in the market, but strongly supported organizing a subcommittee to look at long-term solutions to the issue. Bob Baines proposed that the LAC form a subcommittee to begin discussions on this issue, and bring some fleshed out ideas back to the full LAC for discussion. Several LAC members stated that a subcommittee must include representation from all areas of the state and from the dealer community as it will be important to understand the market implications of any proposed changes. LAC members favored discussing this issue with the full LAC, rather than through a subcommittee, and also include DMR staff, members of the dealer community and association representatives. DMR staff will move forward with organizing a meeting prior to the August LAC meeting. Bob Baines updated the LAC on the outcome of the subcommittee’s marketing outreach meetings lead by John Sauve, and presented a proposal to the LAC for consideration. The subcommittee recommends that the LAC move forward with a bill to the Legislature this winter to establish a new marketing entity. The proposal is for a new entity that will operate on a $3million budget, phased in over three years, raised through fees on harvester, dealer and processor licenses. The mission of the new marketing entity will be to “build demand for Maine lobster”. The Board would be comprised of 7 harvester representatives appointed through the zone council system, 2 dealer/processors and 2 public members. The new entity would be accountable to the lobster industry annually in three ways: holding a public Annual Meeting with the industry, reporting to the LAC, and reporting to the Marine Resources Committee. Industry members would be notified of the Annual Meeting through their license renewal. The Legislature would reauthorize the new marketing following an independent audit of its performance by a third party conducted every five years. The LAC discussed the proposal at length, and supported moving it forward. It is anticipated that the proposal will continue to evolve and will likely be restructured through the legislative process. The Commissioner will continue to keep the Governor’s office informed of this process. The Commissioner reminded the LAC that there will be many lobster issues before the Legislature this winter including the findings of the Lobster Limited Entry Study, the lobster marketing effort, and potentially lobster management reforms. John Hathaway and Togue Brawn provided a brief update of the effort to get the Maine lobster fishery certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). After nearly 4 years, the lobster industry has learned that it will qualify for MSC certification, with only four conditions, none of which concern harvesting strategies. The LAC will receive a full briefing at its August meeting. Colonel Fessenden reported that DMR Marine Patrol has been busy dealing with the lobster glut. They received fifteen serious complaints concerning vandalism and trap cutting. All were investigated and only one has turned out to be a legitimate case. Commissioner Keliher informed the LAC that DMR received five proposals to review the lobster limited entry system. DMR scored the proposals and selected the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to conduct the work. GMRI will conduct outreach with the industry to include a website, phone calls, industry-wide survey, outreach meeting in each zone and an industry liaison. DMR reported that three islands – Chebeague, Cliff and Cranberry – have implemented their own limited entry waiting list. The federal budget proposes to cut the last $1.3 million dedicated to commercial fishing safety, but there is still time to ask Maine’s delegation to keep that money in the budget.

Maine Lobster Promotion Council July 20, Hallowell – Chair, Emily Lane, opened the meeting with approval of the June meeting minutes. Dane Somers updated the Board on his plans to participate in the Governor’s Trade Mission to Hong Kong this fall. MLPC is expanding its retail pilot program in the Midwest, with funding from the RED Board. The goal is to move 40,000 pounds of processed lobster through 4 to 6 chains in December. MLPC will launch the Maine Lobster Lover campaign in August as a crisis response to the current market situation. The campaign will include printed materials for consumers and public service announcements on the radio. The promotion will rotate through various locations around Maine beginning at the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland. MLPC is working to recruit restaurants to participate and local businesses to donate prizes. This event should gain strong local press and leverage national coverage. The MLPC is moving forward with plans for the Boston Seafood Show. The MLPC booth will include a product showcase for all product forms of Maine Lobster, provide meeting space for Maine businesses and feature cooking demonstrations. The Harvest on the Harbor event will be held in Portland this fall and will feature the winners of previous competitions in an “All Star” event. Emily Lane provided an update on the LAC marketing subcommittee, and the MLPC Board voted to support the LAC’s effort to put forward a bill to the Maine Legislature to form a new marketing entity with a budget of $3million annually. Several speakers presented. John Sauve of the Food and Wellness Group presented an update of the work he conducted on behalf of the LAC Marketing Subcommittee, and urged the Board to consider its role in leading a generic marketing effort for Maine Lobster. He stated that more work should be done to establish the Maine brand and better position Maine Lobster in the market. Monique Coombs presented an update on the Maine Seafood Marketing Network (MSMN). She noted that she serves on the steering committee for a new Web site, www.localcatch.org, an online network that connects consumers to Community Supported Fisheries around the country. MSMN will host a Seafood and Spirits event in Freeport this fall.

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