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Janet Mills earmarks $8 million in COVID-19 relief funds to help lobstermen

A lobster fishing boat travels out of Portland harbor at dawn, Friday, June 10, 2022, in Portland, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
A lobster fishing boat travels out of Portland harbor at dawn, Friday, June 10, 2022, in Portland, Maine.

Gov. Janet Mills is dedicating more than $8 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to Maine's lobster and aquaculture industries, as they contend with inflation and supply-chain problems.

With prices for bait and boat fuel bouncing around at record highs, and lobster prices coming down from last year's levels, lobstermen say that 2022 is not shaping up well.

"We are going to need to see a much better price per pound for lobsters just to cover expenses," says Jeff Putnam, a Chebeague Island fisherman whose harvests include lobster, scallops, menhaden and oysters.

Putnam says he has offset some costs by catching his own bait, but maybe not enough to make up for how tightly consumers seem to be holding their wallets this year.

"I think consumer sentiment is at pretty low levels right now. I'm very nervous about how this year us going to go. I think the expenses are going to eat too much of the profits to really make it a good year," he says.

Mills is trying to ease the pain with $8.3 million to reimburse license and trap tag fees, and to pay similar expenses for dealers, processors and aquaculture businesses.

"This puts money back in the pockets of Maine’s fishermen, aquaculturists and dealers to help them offset growing business expenses, hopefully providing a small measure of relief for them,” Mills said in a press release.

Putnam welcomed the move, although he also says that instead of a one time payment, the state should work to reduce the annual cost of trap tags. Those revenues fund lobster marketing campaigns, and, under a new law, will help the industry pay for legal expenses to fight federal rules that aim to protect endangered right whales.

Putnam estimates he'll receive around $3,000 back from the government. He adds that about equals what he's shelled out this year for gear he needed to comply with the new federal rules.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.