Maine's state lobster marketing group to keep boosting bugs

A state lobster marketing group is likely to keep touting Maine's most beloved seafood export in the wake of a key vote from a legislative committee.

The Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources voted in favor of renewing the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative for three years on Wednesday. The collaborative needs the full Legislature's approval to continue existing beyond this year.

The collaborative promotes the Maine lobster brand in the media, in the restaurant business and among chefs, and it's funded by fees paid by members of the state's lobster industry, which is, by far, the largest in the country. Several members of the state lobster industry have urged the state to keep the collaborative running.

"You're seeing a lot more sides of the industry that want in," said Matt Jacobson, executive director of the collaborative. "We want them to stick around."

Lobstermen and dealers spoke in favor of the collaborative at a Feb. 5 public hearing, but also called for increased transparency of its operations. The marine resources committee is instructing the collaborative to tighten up some of its business practices and be a better promoter of lobster conservation, said state Rep. Walt Kumiega, D-Deer Isle.

The marketing collaborative was created about five years ago in the wake of a lobster fishing season in which fishermen saw a low price at the docks for their catch. The value of lobsters has improved in recent years.

Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, told the marine resources committee that she views the marketing efforts as "a necessary tool to make the good times better and the bad times hurt a little less."

The proposal still needs to go before the full Legislature, but is much more likely to pass with the committee's endorsement. A vote is expected in the next couple of weeks. The collaborative has an annual budget of $2.2 million.