(Ron Writing) We spent the day in Houlton, ME taking care of some things we need to do before heading into Canada. Our mail is on the way and should be here by Wednesday. We had been waiting for a letter that needs attention before we head off to Canada.
We also both got our haircut today, looked around the downtown area of Houlton, and spent some time in the library.
Since this is a slow day for blog news I’ll relate an experience from a few days ago that I didn’t take time to write about.
Last Friday we had dinner at Fisherman’s Inn Restaurant in Winter Harbor. Business was very slow in that restaurant and appeared to be slow in all the other retail stores on Main Street. I asked our waitress a couple questions about the lobster industry and since she wasn’t busy she spent some time explaining the problems this industry is currently encountering.
The reason we see so many lobster traps setting beside houses and on docks is because the “boat price” (price paid to the lobsterman) for lobster is too low for most lobstermen to make a profit. Almost all lobsters are caught by independent businessmen. The lobsterman owns his own boat and a few hundred traps. He checks each trap every couple days, averages maybe one 1.5 lb. lobster per trap, and sells his catch to a middleman, often a co-op. The co-op sells some small portion of the catch to restaurants or retail establishments but the bulk of the catch goes to processing companies that clean and pack the meat.
Our waitress explained that lobstermen are faced with very high fuel costs for their boats and very low prices for the catch. So even though the catch might be plentiful he loses money. Besides boat fuel he pays around $70 for each trap. The floats and ropes are also very expensive. He also has to purchase bait for the traps. Boats require constant maintenance. According to her the bottom fell out of the market when the current worldwide economic crisis affected the banks in Iceland in such a dramatic way. It seems that most of the lobster processing plants are in Canada and those plants were primarily financed by banks in Iceland. When those banks folded, the processing plants lost their financing and were unable to continue normal business operations. This led to a drastic reduction in their purchases from the lobster co-ops. And if the co-ops couldn’t sell the lobsters they couldn’t keep purchasing the catch from the lobstermen.
Our waitress knowes a lot about this business because until recently she was the bookkeeper at a lobster co-op. She said everyone in the lobster business, which includes a large percentage of the local population, is very nervous and scared that they will lose everything. We could see her tension and nervousness as she spoke to us.
We had very nice weather today with just a light shower this afternoon. Temperature was in the low 70’s.