(From the 2012-2016 Lobster Institute Strategic Plan)
In 1987, five major stakeholders – the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, the Maine Pound Owners Association, the Maine Import/Export Dealer’s Association, and the University of Maine – unified their support behind the creation of a research and educational entity designed to conduct scientific investigation on and provide information about the American Lobster (homarus americanus) in order to help conserve and enhance the resource, and ensure the continuance of a strong and healthy lobster industry in Maine and the region. This entity became the Lobster Institute.
The original founders and initial leadership of the Institute recognized that the lobster fishery in Maine and surrounding areas was the signature fishery of the North Atlantic. Further, they understood that protecting this invaluable natural resource, which was the cornerstone to a vast structure comprised of economically-related businesses and culturally-related lifestyles and art forms, was incumbent upon the industry itself and the communities and states in which those industries were relied upon to thrive.
At the same time, the founders recognized that a long-standing reluctance to cooperate existed between and among fishermen and scientists. Conflicting priorities, concerns over privacy and competition, and confusion inherent in any highly regulated endeavor were and are still common within the fishery. The Institute determined to lead by example in closing the credibility gap between fishermen and scientists, and to strive for inclusiveness in both its principles and practices.
Support for the Lobster Institute spread throughout the early years, and current day guidance is supplied by a Board of Advisors with representatives from companies and associations extending from Long Island Sound to the Canadian Maritime Provinces and representing all aspects of the lobster industry.
In the years since its inception, the Institute has seen the landings and values of the lobster catch rise steadily. In the five-year stretch from 1994-1999 the increase in landings reported in Maine alone was 13.5 million pounds. In 1999, the dockside value of Maine’s catch (53.5 million pounds) was recorded at $185 million, with an estimated economic impact on the state economy of $500 million. Massachusetts represents the second largest lobster fishery in the U.S., with 1999 landings of 16 million pounds at a value of approximately $48 million. In referring to this apparent abundance and value of the landings, a recent report from the Maine Department of Marine Resources entitled “Coastal Fishery Research Priorities” noted that the lobster industry “…is recognized worldwide as one of the few fishery management success stories. Nonetheless, the federal government includes lobster on its list of over-fished species based on the estimates of fishing mortality rate from the lobster stock assessment.”
Today, we find approximately 7,000 commercial lobster license holders in Maine, just over 2,000 in Massachusetts and slightly lesser amounts in Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. There are thousands of recreational licenses issued yearly as well. In addition, Canada has a thriving lobster fishery in the Maritime Provinces, and is the largest supplier of the American Lobster worldwide.
The Lobster Institute recognizes that the tentacles of the lobster reach well beyond the fishery to touch the various support industries such as boat building and repair; trap, rope and fishing supply businesses; fuel dealers; banks and insurance companies; and others. It touches seafood-processing businesses, bait suppliers, the restaurateurs, the craftsman and artisan, the tourism trade, and the cultural heritage and identity of nearly every coastal community on the North Atlantic seaboard.
In the coming years, the Lobster Institute will re-dedicate itself to its founding principles of cooperation, communication, and a commitment to conservation of both the resource and the industry. While the main focus will be on the American lobster, the Institute recognizes the global nature of the lobster industry and will continue to foster international linkages. Through research, educational outreach and a pro-active approach to maintaining the cultural heritage and community spirit that surrounds the lobster industry the Lobster Institute will concentrate on protecting, sustaining and enhancing the vitality of the lobster and lobstering as an industry…and as a way of life.
The primary concern of the Lobster Institute will be the sustainability of the fishery. To that end, the Institute will undertake practical, applied research targeting issues related to:
- Lobster health
- Modeling and stock assessment
- Lobster ecology, biology, behavior and population dynamic
- New product development/economics.
We will embrace our role as a collaborator, particularly with the fishermen, to advance our research priorities. The Institute will foster cooperative research endeavors and engage fishermen, industry members and scientists (both professional and students) in its projects. Further, we expect to act as a conduit between the scientific needs of the fishery and the talent-pool of researchers available to address those needs. The Institute will link industry expertise with academic resources to solve and anticipate problems and face challenges.
The Lobster Institute will evaluate its role as an educator and improve its methods of promoting learning through multiple strategies and technologies. The Institute will enhance its position and effectiveness as a central clearinghouse for information about lobsters and the lobster industry. The Institute will bring its unique strength as an industry-guided research organization to its participation in conferences, seminars, workshops and fact-finding efforts. It will establish a relationship with K-12 education with an eye toward introducing lobster research and teaching into their curriculum. Further, the Institute’s quarterly publication, Lobster Bulletin, and the Institute’s website are seen as primary means of educational outreach. Their quality and relevance will be upgraded.
We will continue our work toward being a significant community-builder and seek out natural partners among the constituents we serve. The Lobster Institute will forge even stronger bonds with fishermen and industry members, and take an inclusive approach to setting priorities and accomplishing its objectives. We will reinforce our commitment to establishing new links with industrial and community associates, in order to optimize the effectiveness of research and transfer of knowledge. We will take full advantage of our relationship with the University of Maine to tap into quality faculty and students as partners in our endeavors.
The Lobster Institute’s public image and reputation will continue to grow as more fishermen, industry members, scientist, and community members recognize its role in providing access to quality research and educational programming. We will enjoy an international reputation for excellence, developed by hosting researchers and students from other countries and fostering the sharing of information and technologies. The Lobster Institute will be recognized as a major contributor to lobster research and will be one of the first resources people think of when they need information about lobsters and the lobster industry.
A stable, dedicated source of operating funding through endowed accounts and ongoing annual fund raising will strengthen the ability of the Lobster Institute to respond to the needs of the industry. We will develop a broader base of financial support for the Institute and pursue sources of funding outside of the traditional granting agencies and industry association.
We will continue to work under our current governance structure, drawing upon the guidance of people representing all elements of the lobstering industry and community. This inclusive management philosophy is a hallmark of the Lobster Institute. Strategic planning, evaluation and benchmarking tools, and needs assessment-supported decision making will be reflected in budgeting, program development, and advancement efforts.