[Updated at end: August 22, 2009]
On one of the first afternoons I was in Maine I drove past my favorite lobster supplier, Taylor Lobster in Kittery.
This unprepossessing spot was source of lobster for many great dinners at our house (one of which is hilariously described by my talented friend Steve Almond in the short essay collection Death by Pad Thai).
Taylor Lobster also supplies lobster to many local restaurants and grocery stores.
While the price of lobster is always lower in Maine than in other states, I was shocked by how inexpensive lobsters were this summer.
A price this low for the public means that lobstermen (there are women who trap lobsters as well, but the language hasn’t caught up with them) are getting as little as $2.35 a pound at the dock. Newspapers and local radio stations were reporting that lobster fishers were considering what is referred to locally as a “tie-up,” a controversial form of protest which involves leaving boats at the dock for as long as necessary to force the price of lobster higher.
I probably don’t need to tell you that the work of pulling traps is rugged; lobster boats are small, the sea is often rough, and the weather can be exceedingly nasty. Trap wars and other territorial disputes are not uncommon and current low prices only make these disputes thornier.
Survival in downeast Maine (on islands and along the coast) is intimately tied to the complex life history of the American lobster (Homarus americanus) and to the long and complicated history of the lobster fishery along the northeast coast (one of the best books about both of these topics is The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson).
Lobstering is also not without environmental controversy; trap lines are thought to be a risk to endangered north Atlantic right whales. Some suggest that cutting the number of traps would solve this problem and at the same time increase the catch.
Maine lobstermen have survived for years by regulating their own industry (the Maine Lobsterman’s Association was formed in 1954 to support this effort) and I am sure they will weather this storm as they have weathered storms in the past. I hope that the cost of this one is not the loss of a way of life that has shaped life along the Maine coast for so long.
Update: Well, the Matinicus shooting and lobster fishing crisis have made it to the New York Times almost a month after it was news in Maine (and on this blog!)