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PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine could have more jobs and add more value to its lobster industry if it processed more of its catch in-state rather than shipping it to Canada to be processed, Maine lobster processors said Friday.
Gov. Paul LePage met with lobster processors in Augusta on Friday to discuss what can done to increase the volume of lobsters processed in Maine. The meeting was spurred by protests by Canadian lobstermen who blocked truckloads of Maine lobsters from being delivered to processing plants in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
John Hathaway, owner of Shucks Maine Lobster in Richmond, told The Associated Press that Maine processors need more marketing to draw more customers. It makes no sense, he said, for Maine's lobster industry to send tens of millions of pounds of lobsters to Canada each year and have Canadian companies create products that are sold back in the U.S.
"That's what I would call a foolish business model," Hathaway said. "What we need to do is add value and jobs here."
Maine each summer and fall ships millions of pounds of lobsters to Canada, where they're turned into a variety of frozen and meat products that are sold for retail and foodservice markets, mostly in the U.S.
In the past week, groups of lobstermen in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island blockaded several processing plants, demanding that they not process lobster from Maine. The fishermen blame the large volume of Maine lobsters for the low prices they've been offered for their catch when their fishing season begins Monday.
By Wednesday, every lobster processing plant in New Brunswick had shut down operations, New Brunswick fishery officials said. Deliveries of Maine lobster have since resumed after a New Brunswick judge issued a 10-day injunction Thursday preventing fishermen from blockading the plants.
Lobster processing plants in New Brunswick resumed operations Friday, and lobster dealers in Maine said they've resumed shipments to Canada.
After the protests began, LePage said his administration was exploring ways to drive down energy costs and provide incentives to increase the lobster-processing capacity in Maine. Canada has more than two dozen plants, while Maine has only three of any size.
Entering the lobster-processing industry can be a challenge because of high capital costs for equipment, high energy costs and the difficulty in finding enough seasonal workers, said Linda Bean, founder and owner of Linda Bean's Perfect Maine LLC, which has a processing plant in Rockland with 80 seasonal workers.
But the biggest obstacle is that Canadian processors can undercut Maine processors on price because they receive government assistance, she said.
Bean said she'd like to sell her products to large theme parks and cruise lines, but it's hard to match the prices that Canadian companies can offer. She said she'd support having the federal government place on tariff on processed lobster imports from Canada.
"I'm not a protectionist, but we need protection or else we won't be able to sell in volume," she said.