July is the peak month for the lobster industry in Maine. But this last weekend along the port towns of the north east state, new tariffs placed on the U.S. lobster exports are set to destabilize the state’s leading industry.
“We can’t afford to be patient at all,” said Tom Adams, the CEO of Maine Coast, a major lobster distribution company. “We are making whatever moves we have to now.”
Adams works with more than 100 local lobstermen and fishing co-ops. They export 60 percent of its lobsters to 29 foreign countries. But when China placed an additional 25 percent tariff on U.S. lobsters Friday, Adams’ was forced to find new buyers for lobsters previously planned for the Asian country.
Twenty percent of his exports go to China but that market was dismantled for Adams this week.
“We will lose a crucial part of the market that we’ve developed over the years here in Maine — losing sales and revenue for our company, possibly making us eliminate jobs,” he said.
Maine’s leading industry faces an uncertain future with no end to the White House-backed trade war in sight. That leaves the 4,500 licensed lobstermen and their distributors on edge as Chinese seafood buyers back away from their New England product. There are an additional 10,000 Maine workers who are within the industry.
“Lobster to a community in Maine is like coal in a coal mining town. It means everything,” said Cyrus Sleeper, a seasoned lobsterman from South Thomaston. “Families can put clothes on their kids, feed themselves; it gives everything a community needs, and the lobsters supply it.”
Sleeper is just 29, but he was fished the waters of Maine since he was just nine years old. He emphasized the importance of China as a growing market and worries about the future for other young fishermen like him.
“I can’t say the Trump administration has been great for this business,” Sleeper told NBC News. “We’ve been fishing more lobsters than ever and China was absorbing the product; we had a lot of hope for the future of the market.”
Mark Murrell is another distributor based out of Portland. He said he had initially hoped the election of Donald Trump would bring an expanded marketplace for their goods. But this week, Murrell said the president should “be more thoughtful and ask the end person — ask the source,” noting “it may get ugly” for the lobster business.
“I’m hopeful that what he’s doing is going to end up in the long run being great for everyone,” Murrell followed. But when asked how confident he is that his industry will be better off as a result of the growing tariff war, Murrell responded: “Not very.”