As the U.S. government continues to wage a tariff war with China, more and more industries are being swept up in the battle.
Across the country, those in the manufacturing and farm sectors have been hit hard by the trade battle, but a new front is opening up on the coast. In Maine, lobster fisherman are the latest group to feel the effects of the new global trade policy.
In July 2018, China levied a 25 percent tariff on U.S. lobster. The effects of that are being felt across the industry now, from one-boat fishing operations to the wholesalers who they supply.
Prior to the tariff increase, over seven million pounds of lobster were sold each year. The increased costs to Chinese importers of Maine lobsters has caused a decrease in the numbers sold. This has forced the fishing industry to look elsewhere for sales outlets, while in some cases curtailing their fishing efforts.
While the industry must learn to navigate what’s become a “new normal,” within the industry, others, even with a tangential relationship, must do the same as well.
“At this point we are not seeing any impact on vendors, or participants for the upcoming Festival," Celia Knight, president of the Maine Lobster Festival, said. "If anything, the soft shell lobster that we use for the event could be so plentiful that we see a price drop in lobster dinners. We don’t set the prices from our lobster dealer until a couple weeks before the Festival so this is all speculation.”
While some navigate this issue from a financial standpoint, others are considering the ecological impact of a potential slowdown in lobster fishing.
“If we were to reduce fishing efforts on lobster, we’d have to majorly reduce efforts to impact the lobster population to a point where it might go ‘out of control’ and I think we’ve already hit that point with the lobster population explosion we’ve experienced over the past decade(s)," Carla Guenther, chief scientist for the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, said. "There is such a population density right now, that we’d likely still catch the same amount of lobsters if we mildly reduced efforts along the entirety of Maine’s coast.”
Other fish populations also could be impacted, Guenther said.
“If we were to reduce our bait demand/consumption as a result of reduced effort, we might see an ecosystem impact in increased herring populations in the Gulf of Maine," she said. "But other things outside of the lobster industry’s consumption of herring bait can be contributing to herring decline, so the scale of magnitude and direct relationships are difficult to predict.”
Richard A. Wahle, director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine, Darling Marine Center, added “...it definitely affects global trade dynamics for lobster. Some U.S. dealers are routing their live lobster product through Canada to avoid the tariff. The disadvantage of that is that it take jobs out of the U.S. and labels the product as being from Canada, even if it originates from the U.S.”