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Maine lobstermen struggle with falling prices

Before sunrise last Monday in Winter Harbor, Maine, a gathering of lobstermen came to a rare consensus: Prices were too low to go fishing.

"I've never seen them tie up [their boats] as a group like this before," Randy Johnson, manager of the Winter Harbor Lobster Co-op, told the Wall Street Journal.

The 30 vessels in his cooperative have remained in port for a week straight.

Harbors up and down the coast of Maine are filled with idle fishing boats as lobster haulers decide that pulling in their lobster pots has become a fruitless pursuit, according to the Journal.

Prices at the dock have fallen as low as $1.25 a pound in some areas, according to the newspaper — roughly 70 percent below normal and a nearly 30-year-low for this time of year.

Those prices have officials and lobstermen concerned about the fate of one of the state's most vital industries.

"For some people it will be disaster. They are going to go bankrupt," Bob Bayer, director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine, told the paper.

Lobsters are a $300-million-a-year industry in Maine, according to Halifax, Canada, consulting firm Gardner Pinfold.

Along with Canada, Maine's thousands of independent lobstermen supply the vast majority of the world's clawed lobsters, which have seen a population boom during the last three decades because of rising water temperatures and the overfishing of cod and haddock, their main predators.

Retail lobster prices in Maine have started to fall along with the glut, and Bayer said some fishermen have begun selling lobsters out of their trucks for as low as $4 a pound.

But consumers elsewhere in the United States aren't likely to see bargains. The Maine lobsters that currently are in season can't be shipped long distances because of their soft shells and retailers have other fixed costs that limit big price drops.

Profit margins are low even in good years, but this summer the problem has intensified.

The wholesalers that buy directly from lobstermen are paying less than it costs for many boats to turn a profit, so they can’t make a profit selling anything for less than $4 a pound.

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