Senators Propose Bill to Expand Lobster Processing
BOSTON — Without reform, the state’s lobster laws are confounding consumers and the multi-million dollar seafood industry, says a bipartisan coalition of state senators.
Senate Docket 1, the first bill filed in the new Senate session, authored by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R- Gloucester) will, according to a just-released report by the Division of Marine Fisheries, result in economic benefits throughout the state’s seafood supply chain and give consumers greater access to desirable fresh seafood products at local retailers and restaurants without harm to lobster stocks.
Under existing laws, Massachusetts lobstermen and seafood vendors are required to sell or transport lobster out-of-state for processing and then bring them back for sale to consumers in the Bay State – often with a "Product of Canada" label.
“Our state has the second-largest lobster catch in the country, yet without this bill, raw and frozen lobster parts are processed in Canada or Maine, only to then be brought back to our local consumers,” said Senator Tarr. “This bill modernizes those lobster laws to bolster the fishing industry and give consumers, including local restaurants and food stores, more choices all while sustainably supporting coastal fishing communities.”
While the sale of living, cooked, and canned lobster is legal in the state, the new law is needed to expand the industry market with the inclusion of other lobster products. Tarr notes that the Marine Fisheries study supports lifting limits on the processing, sale, and transportation of cooked and frozen in-shell lobster parts.
The December 31 study confirms that similar changes in other jurisdictions such as Maine and Canada have resulted in the development of new businesses and the creation of new jobs throughout the seafood processing and distribution industry. In-state lobster landings account for about 11 percent of the U.S. lobster harvest, and five percent globally.
“This report highlights that there is zero reason to further delay legislation to eliminate archaic restrictions on lobster processing. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to once again pass this bill so that businesses may finally expand and create jobs, especially in New Bedford,” said Senator Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford), lead co-sponsor of the legislation.
Up to 80 percent of lobsters landed in the state are sent to out-of-state processing facilities, and industry leaders say the move will facilitate opportunities to create and grow jobs in the state. The Marine Fisheries report notes that the lobster demand has spiked and has continued to evolve in favor of processed lobster parts.
“The Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association greatly appreciates Senator Tarr’s efforts over the last several years to modernize the lobster processing laws,” said Beth Casoni, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association. “This bill will allow our lobstermen to be competitive on a regional and international basis and we will work to ensure the bill’s passage."
"The Marine Fisheries report that the lobster market has continued to evolve to favor processed lobster parts," said Senator Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth). “These advancements in our approach to lobster processing will provide an important benefit to the lobster industry and the fishermen who play such an important role in our communities and economy.”
In 2016, the state’s lobster fishery landed over 18 million pounds of lobster in 46 ports worth $82 million. Modernizing the law for a certified sustainable product would allow Massachusetts seafood businesses to process and sell this highly desirable certified sustainable product to Massachusetts consumers. Chain retailers, grocery stores, warehouse clubs, and online distributors will be a major beneficiary of such a law change, the report says. Many of these retailers currently sell a variety of shell-on lobster parts at their non-Massachusetts locations throughout the United States.
“This bill works to ensure the sustainability and viability of the state’s lobster industry, which will benefit consumers and lobstermen in coastal communities statewide,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport). “The lobster industry is a vital part of the Commonwealth’s economy and identity. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to support it.”
The lobster industry is a critical part of the Commonwealth’s economy and heritage. A similar law in Maine has boosted that state’s economy, produced local outlets for product sales, and created jobs. During the most recent 10 years, U.S. landings have doubled from 80 million pounds to 159 million pounds annually.
“East Coast Seafood Group, the world’s largest processor of lobster and headquartered in Topsfield, is pleased with the tremendous progress made by Senator Tarr and the plan’s supporters,” said Bob Blais, Vice President of East Coast Seafood Group. “The lobsters harvested off the shores of Massachusetts and respective fishermen are the lifeblood of the state’s industry and we support the great efforts taken to ensure the sustainability of the lobster stock. It is with great pride our company will support the surrounding community by expanding our New Bedford operation with the investment in lobster processing equipment and partner in the shared development of what is likely to be hundreds of jobs in the state of Massachusetts.”
The bill, SD.1, An Act Regulating The Processing Of Lobsters, has continued to garner legislative co-sponsors and will be scheduled for a legislative hearing and will be eligible for passage in both the House and Senate.
Tarr expressed appreciation for coastal Senators Montigny, deMacedo, and Rodrigues for their efforts to strengthen the industry and in championing the bill.
--Sen. Tarr's Office