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March 25, 2013

Growing demand for Maine lobster is a wise investment

Legislature should commit funds to promotion, marketing efforts

by Staff Writer

The old adage, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" is too simplistic advice for what ails the Maine lobster industry. But it does hold a kernel of truth.

Making the lemonade wouldn't be enough for that hypothetical lemon windfall. You'd have to build a lemonade stand. You'd have to set it up on a busy road. And you'd have to make signs persuading passersby to buy a glass of cold, freshly squeeze lemonade.

So if the Maine coast gives you a record 126 million pounds of lobster, it's not enough to drop them dockside and call it a day. Like that lemonade stand, Maine lobster must be branded and marketed – business-school terms for telling people about the wonderful qualities of our lobster and persuading them to consume more.

Marketing works. Whether it's for Poland Spring water or Moxie, consumers have to be enticed to purchase non-essentials. And lobster is very much a non-essential commodity.

This is why the Legislature's Marine Resources Committee consideration of two plans to pump significant money into promoting lobster sales is encouraging. One major voice, the Maine Lobsterman's Association, enthusiastically supported both.

LD 182 would raise $1 million from the state's general fund and give it to the Maine Lobster Promotion Council. LD 486 would raise $3 million over three years from lobster license fees and dealers – with licenses carrying most of the weight – and also give it to the MLPC to grow demand for Maine lobster.

Given the bleak state of Maine's finances, the first bill is not likely to win approval from the Legislature's Appropriations Committee. The second bill, though, relying on industry funding, should win support.

But money alone is not enough.

If approved, the marketing plan developed by the MLPC would have to come back to the Marine Resources Committee for approval. There are difficult choices to be made. Does it make sense to promote lobster in new markets, perhaps in Asia? Or grow demand in the parts of the U.S. where consumption is low? Should the processing potential of soft-shell lobster be emphasized? What about chain restaurants; can more be sold to those businesses?

But first comes the money. Fishermen and those who rely on the economic activity they create must be patient. The results of marketing plans often lag years behind the actual campaign. But if the campaign is clever, consistent and correctly targeted, it will work. More sales will mean higher prices for fishermen and dealers, making this the only clear course to follow. 

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