Lobster Institute’s US-Canada Lobster Town Meeting returns with a bang!
The U.S. – Canada Lobster Town Meeting returned for its 18th event in Portland, Maine, February 3-4, 2023. Hosted by the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute, the U.S. – Canada Lobster Town Meeting resumed after a 2-year Covid-induced hiatus. Portland’s historic Mariner’s Church, recently purchased by the Portland Regency Hotel, was the venue for the sold-out meeting. Welcoming over 200 people hailing from eight States and five Canadian Provinces, this was the Town Meeting’s largest attendance ever.
The theme of this year’s meeting was: The U.S. – Canadian lobster fishery and the North Atlantic right whale. Attendees included harvesters, researchers, fisheries managers, dealers, processors, political delegates, gear manufacturers, non-profit representatives and more. The meeting consisted of four sessions over two days, spanning the gamut from regulations to future technology and innovations. Each session hosted a balanced panel of representatives from both Canada and the U.S. whom we asked to share their perspectives on key issues affecting the industry specific to this year’s theme.
Panel one, covering the status of regulations and new US federal funding, were Brett Gilcrest, Director of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO); Melanie Giffin, Marine Biologist and program planner for the Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association; Patrice McCarron, Executive Director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association; and Molly Ryan, a legislative assistant focused on environmental issues in Senator Collins’ office. A lively discussion between panelists and meeting attendees covered measures being taken by both the Canadian and U.S. fisheries management to reduce whale entanglement risk, pressure points for industry and management partners, and provided insight into how the new omnibus funds would be distributed in the U.S. Maine will receive $50 million per year for six years to buy time and help offset the cost to harvesters of complying with new NOAA regulations. The bill also creates a grant program that will provide additional funding for gear testing each year. In addition, the fund provides support forcollaborative research with the fishing industry to better disentangle the sources of whale mortality and changes in migration patterns. . Panelists also highlighted the importance of collaboration and communication across borders as the lobster industry moves forward under new management constraints.
Panel two, which discussed market impacts of the lobster-whale controversy, included Marianne LaCroix, Executive Director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative; Curt Brown, marine biologist at Ready Seafood; Christina Ferranti-Clift, Director of Marketing at East Coast Seafood Group; Geoff Irvine, Executive Director of The Lobster Council of Canada; Owen Kenney, Vice President of Sales at Downeast Specialty Products; and Adam Morris, General Manager of the lobster division at Clearwater Seafoods. During this session, panelists discussed the MSC certification of both the U.S. and Canadian fisheries as well as whether or not the recent six year pause in regulations brought Maine lobster back into MSC compliance. They also highlighted the importance of carried inventory and concern around cold storage space, particularly in New England, as we move into the spring. Processors shared that they had to pull back on production in 2022 to adjust for market conditions, but that the market is in much better shape now than it had been. On the international stage, high tariffs on U.S. lobster have made it difficult for China to import, especially when compared to Canadian lobster. The discussion then turned to promotions intended to counter the Seafood Watch red-listing of lobster and whether or not it was important to differentiate between lobstering regions (Massachusetts, Maine, or Canada). Panelists stated that from a marketing perspective they view lobster from both Canada and the U.S. as a single industry and see no reason to differentiate between region of origin when promoting products overseas.
Panel three, on shifting distributions of species in a changing climate, featured panelists Nick Record, Senior Research Scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences ; Andrew Goode, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Maine, School of Marine Sciences; Moira Brown, Senior Scientist at the Canadian Whale Institute; and Lydia White, PhD Candidate at the University of New Brunswick. The conversation covered the impact of warming waters on the primary planktonic prey of right whales and the resulting changes in right whale distribution. Researchers are using data on oceanographic indicators, in particular change in the relative influence of the Gulf Stream and Labrador Current, and the abundance of the tiny, but energy-rich, planktonic crustacean, Calanus finmarchicus, to develop better models for predicting new right whale habitats. Warmer waters also seem to be exceeding the ideal conditions for lobster in the southern part of its range, and more favorable conditions in the north, leading to a net northward shift in their distribution with noteworthy increases in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Panel four, on day two of the meeting, discussed future technology and innovations for the industry. Panelists were Kristan Porter, President of Maine Lobstermen’s Association; Noah Oppenheim of Homarus Strategies LLC; Jeremy Willey, lobsterman and CEO of Maine Fish Tech; Luc LeBlanc, a fisheries adviser for the Maritime Fishermen’s Union; Kenneth LeClair, Vice President of the Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association; and Bernie Berry, President of the Coldwater Lobster Association. The panelists discussed testing of new gear types, and expressed awareness and concern over the prohibitive pricing of new gear. Conversation turned to safety considerations surrounding new ropes and weak links, as well as differences between Canadian and U.S. management efforts. The session concluded with a discussion on the current gear testing efforts taking place on both sides of the border.
The meeting appeared to have been successful in its goal of fostering communication between stakeholders in both the U.S. and Canada on the present and future of the lobster industry. Early press commentary immediately after the meeting noted both the large challenges ahead and hope for the future. In an opinion piece published in the Portland Press Herald (https://www.pressherald.com/?p=6936404) Canadian Consul General, Roger Cuzner, who attended the meeting, expressed the cross-border sentiment well: “We’re all in the same boat.” Next year, the U.S. Canada Town Meeting will take place in Canada, following the tradition of alternating meeting locations between the two countries.
We would like to extend a special thanks to the Stoll Lab graduate students Theresa Burnham, Joelle Kilchenmann, Tracy MacKeracher, and Melissa Rhodes-Reese for capturing notes and supporting Town Meeting. Our moderator Paul Anderson, our sponsors, panelists, and all of our attendees.
View the full event program at this link.
Session I – Status of Regulations and New Funding
- Patrice McCarron, Ex. Director, Maine Lobstermen’s Assn
- Molly Ryan, Senator Collins’s office
Session II – Market Impacts
- Marianne LaCroix, Executive Director, Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative
- Curt Brown, Marine Biologist, Ready Seafood
- Christina Ferranti-Clift, Director of Marketing East Coast Seafood Group
- Geoff Irvine, Executive Director, The Lobster Council of Canada
- Owen Kenney, Vice President of Sales, Downeast Specialty Products
- Adam Morris, General Manager, Lobster Division, Clearwater Seafoods
Session III – Shifting Distributions in a Changing Climate
- Nick Record, Senior Research Scientist, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
- Andrew Goode, Postdoctoral Fellow, UMaine, School of Marine Sciences
- Moira Brown, Senior Scientist at the Canadian Whale Institute
- Lydia White, Ph.D. Candidate, University of New Brunswick
Session IV – Future Technology and Innovations
- Kristan Porter – President, Maine Lobstermen’s Association, Board of Directors
- Noah Oppenheim – Homarus Strategies LLC
- Jeremy Willey – Lobsterman, Maine Fish Tech CEO
- Luc LeBlanc – Maritime Fishermen’s Union
- Kenneth LeClair – Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association
- Bernie Berry – Coldwater Lobster Association