Lobstermen Launch Business To Take Catch From Sea To Table

WCHS TV, Channel 6
October 1, 2009

Maine lobster fishermen don’t always like change, but some Casco Bay Lobstermen say they have to change to stay in business.

Twenty-nine fishermen have banded together to try to market their own lobsters. The fishermen come from Chebeague and Cliff Islands, as well as from Freeport, Yarmouth and Portland. They’ve formed a business, called Calendar Islands Lobster Company, which will market their catch to stores and restaurants.

That’s a big change from the way most of the lobster industry works. Typically, fishermen sell their catch to co-ops or to lobster dealers. Those buyers then turn around and sell the lobsters to wholesalers or processing plants.

As much as seventy percent of Maine’s annual lobster catch is sold to processors in Canada – and in most cases that takes the world-famous “Maine Lobster” brand away. The Calendar islands fishermen hope to raise the visibility of the Maine Lobster brand by selling hand-selected, top quality lobsters to the marketplace, and connecting directly to the consumer.

The lobsters will have special rubber bands on the claws, listing the calendar brand and a special I.D. number. Consumers will be able to go online, type in that number, and be connected to the fisherman who actually caught the lobster.

The 29 fishermen have all had to invest money to get the business going, but say if it can bring them a higher price and give them more control over the market, it’s a very good investment. The project is being helped by the Island Institute, which has raised $43,000 to hire a full-time staff person to work on marketing and other needs.

Peter Ralston of the Island Institute likens the Calendar Islands Lobster project to Port Clyde Fresh Catch, a co-op of ground fishermen in the harbor of Port Clyde. There, added marketing and other innovations have helped identify new ways to sell their fish, and expand sales. Ralston says with the “Maine Lobster” brand seeming to lose a lot of presence in the marketplace, projects like Calendar islands may be the model for the future for Maine’s lobster industry.

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