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July 1, 2009
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A profile of the average lobsterman

by Sandra Dinsmore

Over three-quarters of New England's lobster is landed in Maine. The average New England lobsterman is 50 years old and has been lobstering for 30 years; his vessel is 32 feet long and 17 years old and has a 260 horsepower engine.

We can be grateful to The Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GOMRI), in Portland, for gathering and analyzing reams of such information from New England lobster fishermen for 2005. We can also be grateful to those fishermen who took the time that spring to answer the survey's many questions.

The institute hired Market Decisions, LLC, a Portland market research firm, to do the survey to learn these and many other facts about Maine and New England lobster fishermen. The study was conducted in an effort, according to the Gulf of Maine Lobster Socioeconomic Impact Study summary, "To address the lack of information about the New England lobster fishing industry with the hope that if there is a decline in the lobster resource ... lobstermen and their families have the socioeconomic stability to continue saving for their children's education or training following high school, saving for retirement, and maintaining health insurance coverage and diversity to enter new careers or fisheries if necessary."

The survey was based on phone interviews with 1,158 randomly selected lobster fishermen in 12 state and federal fishing areas of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with the number of lobstermen called approximating the proportion of lobstermen in each area. In Maine, 901 lobstermen were interviewed. The report was released last fall.

According to Maine Department of Marine Resources statistician David Libby, in 2005, the DMR issued 6,952 lobster licenses, but he was quick to add, "That doesn't mean they all fished."

If a fisherman landed 1,000 pounds or more in 2005, he or she was considered active. The average active fisherman landed just over 24,000 pounds. The report states the point was, "to assess whether the lobsterman was actively using [his or her] permit." Those who landed fewer than 1,000 pounds were considered inactive and asked fewer questions.

The executive summary of the report states: "In many cases, when respondents were detailing their costs of fuel, bait, and insurance for their vessels and their gross revenue, the numbers did not add up. This was an area where there may have been a good bit of fudging or incorrect information." It went on to say that a number of respondents refused to answer these questions, and others just used a best guess because they were, naturally, concerned about "how these numbers would be reported" and "how the data would be used by government regulators."

Those most reluctant to give information came not from Stonington east, in Maine, but from Rhode Island and Massachusetts, with New Hampshire to "a lesser degree." The surveyors thought this might have been due to several oil spills off Rhode Island and Massachusetts, which resulted in tighter regulations.

According to the survey, in 2005, if the average lobsterman in Maine fished with a sternman, he had a gross revenue ranging from $47,854 to $106,317. He paid an average of almost $7,500 for fuel and oil and an average of $11,363 for bait. His vessel insurance came to an average of $2,039 and he reported an average profit of $25,376 after expenses. Sixty-three percent of active lobstermen had sternmen; about two-thirds had a crew of two or more; the average sternman earned an average of $20,600. The average lobsterman had a loan of nearly $56,000.

"Many of the lobstermen would not be able to survive in their lobster businesses if their spouses were not otherwise gainfully employed," the report states, adding, " This was particularly true in Maine...." The report continued,"... that these spouses provided health insurance through their places of employment was huge in terms of their being able to continue to lobster" and noted that those spouses not otherwise employed kept the books.

Almost three-quarters of lobstermen surveyed landed more than 1,000 pounds in 2005 and were, therefore, considered "active." Among those who did not land more than 1000 pounds, over a quarter said this was due to their own or a family member's illness. About another quarter said they changed jobs, worked in another fishing industry, or were working for another lobsterman. Three-quarters of active lobstermen were married; sixty-five percent of those married had no children under 18, and eight in ten had a high school diploma or a G.E.D.

Because so many fishermen had sold their waterfront houses either because taxes had become too high or because that property had become too valuable, active lobstermen lived an average of five miles from where their boat was moored. Over eight in ten landed their catch at the location where they most frequently moored their vessel.

Only three in ten active lobstermen fished the first quarter of 2005, landing an average of 900 pounds Three-quarters fished the second quarter, landing an average of 2,941 pounds. Almost all, 97 percent, fished the third quarter, landing an average of 10,930 pounds, and 92 percent fished the fourth quarter, landing an average of 10,500 pounds for that total of 24,000 pounds.

For a copy of the survey, contact Patty Collins at 228-1625 or go to: http://www.gmri.org/upload/files/gmri_lobster_report_lores.pdf

 

 

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