Maine officials say lobstermen recorded another year of high lobster catch in 2014

Every year in Maine is the year of the lobster, but 2014 was especially good, according to catch data released Thursday.

Maine lobstermen set a record last year in posting a catch with a total value of $456.9 million, said state fishery regulators, who released the 2014 data. Maine's lobster fishermen also topped 120 million pounds of catch for the third straight year.

Lobstermen caught 123.7 million pounds of lobster last year, a slight drop from 2013's 127.8 million pound mark, state Department of Marine Resources officials said. But official said the price per pound of lobsters at the dock rose from $2.90 in 2013 to $3.69 last year, facilitating the record total value. The price of lobster to consumers also rose in some fish markets and restaurants as a result.

Fishermen and regulators agreed that environmental factors and expanding markets for lobsters — particularly in Asia — helped boost the value of Maine's signature crustacean.

"Last year, mother nature delivered us a good product," said David Cousens, a South Thomaston lobsterman and president of the Maine Lobsterman's Association. "It worked perfectly to the fishermen's advantage this year."

One reason lobsters rose in value was because many lobsters shed their shells later in 2014 than some recent years, state officials said. The lobster season typically picks up after the bulk of lobsters shed shells and reach legal catch size.

In some recent seasons, an early shed created a glut of lobsters on the market that exceeded demand and depressed value, officials and lobstermen said. Last year's later shed meant lobster catches were increasing in the summer, when demand for them is at their highest at New England's high-end seafood restaurants and roadside seafood shacks.

State Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said the later shed helped make the lobsters more valuable. Lobstermen reported higher prices for their lobsters throughout the late summer.

"Not only were landings at an historic high again, a more predictably timed shed improved industry's ability to manage the supply," Keliher said.

The year also showed an improved forecast for future years, as settlement of lobster larvae to the ocean floor returned to average levels after three low years, state Marine Science Bureau Director Carl Wilson said. Wilson called the settlement "a favorable pattern change" for Maine lobsters' future.

State records that go back to the 1880s state that the last four years are the only years in which lobstermen have topped 100 million pounds of catch annually.