Maine's lobster catch likely declined in 2014 from 2 previous high years, raising prices

The 2014 lobster fishing season appears to have resulted in a lower total catch than the previous two years — meaning slightly higher prices for consumers — but it remained a productive year, lobstermen say.

Maine's lobster fishery, the largest in the country, topped 125 million pounds in 2012 and 2013. The 2012 catch of more than 127.2 million pounds was the highest since record-keeping began in 1880.

This year's catch was robust, but fishermen and industry officials said they don't expect to touch those numbers. As a result, the value of lobsters rose, as did their price tag in markets.

The high catches of 2012 and 2013 seemed to depress value somewhat, as the $2.69 per pound lobstermen averaged for their hauls was the lowest since 1994, state records show. The 2013 price of $2.89 per pound was the fourth lowest in that same time period.

Some lobstermen reported a slightly higher price in 2014, said Sheila Dassatt, executive director of the Downeast Lobstermen's Association.

"We are not hearing any unhappy complaints this year," Dassatt said. "They were happy that they didn't have to catch as many in order to make as much money."

The season typically picks up after the bulk of lobsters shed shells and reach legal catch size. Fishermen said this year was characterized by a slightly later shed than 2012 and 2013, when the shed took place in June.

This year's shed appeared to happen in mid-July, when catches started to pick up, said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association. She and others in the industry said this year's season seemed like a reversion to a more typical lobstering year, while the early sheds and huge catches of 2012 and 2013 were likely anomalies.

"I think the expectation is it's probably not a record year, but probably very strong," McCarron said. "The overall signal of the fishery was much more in line with what we typically see."

State officials will provide official data for the lobster fishing year, which runs all year long but peaks in the summer, in 2015.

Lobster catches came on strong in August this year, said Steve Hale, a Rockland lobsterman who has been fishing for lobster for more than 30 years. He described recent years as "unusual" in terms of the volume of catch, and said this season was more traditional.

"Everybody paid their bills," Hale said. "I think statewide, it's going to be a little less."