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Navigating the Narrows: Maine’s Lobster-Fishing Industry Amid COVID-19
On March 15th, Maine turned 200. The birthday celebrations the State had planned were largely unrealized, at the time the COVID-19 pandemic was seeping into Maine, and we were starting what would soon become the total shut down, now experienced by our entire nation.
Against this backdrop, we are easing into spring, the days stretching out longer and a slight warmth in the sun. Spring comes late, or not at all in Maine, typically spring is known simply as “mud season”. We go straight from mud season to the fourth of July – cook outs, celebrations, and gatherings of family and friends. Typically, the Fourth of July also signals the start of New Shell season, when Maine lobstering really picks up, coastal harbors coming to life in a torrid of activity.
Amid the pandemic, Mainers, and fishermen, are doing what they’ve done for our State’s 200-year history – innovating, adapting, coming together (though not more than 6 feet), and taking the long view. Businesses that have been in the online lobster-shipping business for years such as Hancock Gourmet Lobster, and Maine Lobster Now are seeing an uptick, and others, such as Luke’s Lobster, are pivoting quickly to an online platform. These companies, in addition to striving to keep their own businesses healthy, are also working hard to ensure a market for lobster fishermen, as summer approaches (here is a list of Maine companies offering online lobster delivery). As a nation, stuck inside and unable to eat out, or even go out, consumers are ordering online like never before, and “doing their part” to try and support the businesses and industries that have been hard hit.
As one long-time fishermen said, “there are years you get a new truck, years you think about it, and years the thought never crosses your mind, 2020 will be a no new truck year.” Many fishermen are taking a wait-and-see approach, this time of year is typically when guys are getting ready to go and there is just is not a lot of lobster-fishing. Chad Dorr, who runs Dorr’s Lobster Co., put it like this, “we’re waiting to see what May brings, that will really determine how thing are for us.” Dorr’s has been in business for over 40 years; Chad’s father is a fisherman, and the business runs a wharf in Milbridge and also owns a pound, lobster holding tanks and two seafood markets, one in Bangor and one in Ellsworth. The seafood market also offers online sales, a strategy more and more companies are leaning into or getting into.
One thing we all know for certain, lobster fishing was part of Maine’s identity on its first birthday, and it will surely be part of our identity when we turn 300.