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Lobster buyer a proponent of more local processing

PORT CLYDE, Maine — Linda Bean, president of Port Clyde Lobster, has identified a weakness in the lobster industry’s current financial difficulties.

“The problem is not low production, as some earlier predicted,” she said in a recent e-mail to the Bangor Daily News. “It is a combination of lowered demand and high production.

“The high production season for lobster in Maine has coincided with a financial crisis around the world,” she said, adding that there is more supply than demand.

Bean, the 67-year-old grand-daughter of L.L. Bean, bought the 7-acre Port Clyde lobster business on March 1, 2007. She regularly buys the catch of 25 lobstermen from Port Clyde and Vinalhaven.

“When the Icelandic banks collapsed [reducing the flow of capital to Canadian processors who use the money to buy Maine lobsters], I reassured all my fishermen and kept my wharves open,” she said.

Bean said her wharves have remained open every day throughout the recent crisis.

She believes Maine lobster dealers have to supply their own solutions, and the focus should be on the processing phase of the business.

Processing right here in Maine, near the supply of lobsters, would lower transportation costs of soft-shell lobsters and reduce losses of lobsters — often fragile travelers — that die when shipped long distances, she said.

Bean believes processing in Maine can add value in the form of lobster stew, cooked and frozen lobster meat, and meat for lobster rolls.

Maine has only four processors, two in the Portland area, one in Richmond and a soup maker in Hancock County, she said.

The annual catch in Knox County is 23 million pounds of lobster, Bean said. Her company plans to handle 2.2 million pounds in the current season.

Bean is undeterred by subsidies paid by the Canadian government to Canadian dealers.

“I have a philosophical problem with government subsidies,” she said. “I’m a free-enterprise believer.”

The future of lobsters is bright, she said. “We need to look at it as a sea change. The old ways aren’t working anymore.

“We need to take care of ourselves in Maine — no subsidies and steadily reduced reliance on foreign processing,” she said.

“It is likely that those willing to take the risk of new enterprise will survive,” she said. “It is a very exciting time.”

She said she looks forward every morning to the challenges in her own business.

“It’s given me a new lease on life,” she said.

Since buying the property, she has improved the pound and the wharves. No absentee owner, Bean is at work every day, overseeing all aspects of the business — from making improvements at the wharves to planning strategies for marketing.

She protects her fishermen by offering them diesel fuel for their boats and providing them bait at her price.

Still, she emphasized, “I’m in the lobster business, not the fuel or bait business.”