Maine Lobster Businesses Trapped By Virus and Trump Tariffs

American lobster - Wikipedia

American Red Lobster       Photo: Wikipedia

The Hill and Time Magazine report that, despite all his pandering, President Trump is not winning over Maine’s lobster fishers nor is he helping Maine’s embattled Republican Senator Susan Collins.  Trump’s trade war with China and the coronavirus pandemic have delivered a one-two punch to the lobster industry in Maine.  The largest market for Maine lobster had been China until 2018 when the Chinese government retaliated for U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods with a 25% levy on U.S. lobsters. The trade war with the EU also hurt U.S. lobster exports. And now, the virus has devastated the domestic market for them, which had consisted of restaurants, cruise ships, and vacationers.

Why This Matters:  Unfortunately for Trump and Senator Susan Collins (in a tough re-election fight), his efforts to “help” are, according to The Hill, “falling flat.”  The Marine Monument Trump re-opened to fishing is 130 miles off the coast — too far away to provide relief for dayboat fishers — “doesn’t help the Maine fisherman at all,” Leroy Weed, a Maine fisher told The Hill.  Time Magazine reported that Trump also just promised to give lobster fishers the same bailouts he provided to farmers immediately after China retaliated, but so far lobster fishers say that support is trapped by government red tape.

What’s to Blame — Tariffs or the Monument?

According to The Hill, when President Trump visited Maine he argued that lobster fishers had been harmed not by the trade war but rather by President Obama’s designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off Cape Cod. Trump said of the Obama designation, “They took away your livelihood. It’s ridiculous.”  But Trump’s claims don’t hold water.  First, there was a “grandfather” clause that allowed the one lobster fishing business that actually went all the way out to the area to lobster to continue until 2023. Second, the price they were paid for lobster dropped immediately after the Chinese tariffs went into effect — the Monument designation did not hurt the market at all.  Third, most fish for lobster within 3 miles of the coast, not in that area or anywhere near it.

Meanwhile, the trade war also continues to impact the market, and Trump promised during his visit to Maine to slap a new tariff on European cars if the Europeans didn’t immediately eliminate their tariff on American lobster, but so far that has not happened either. The Democratic Congresswoman who represents the coastal district in Maine explained that his promise of aid to offset tariffs was too late to help the fishers.  She told The Hill, “I’m sure in his mind appealing to the lobstermen was, you know, showing concern for working people and an important industry in our state, but I don’t think it’s a positive thing to do if you’re just making empty promises, particularly for an industry that has a lot of reasons to be worried.”

Little Aid Is Coming Through

Time reported that about a third of the industry has received nearly $15 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans to help them cope with the COVID-19 related losses.  But the Agriculture Department does not ordinarily deal with subsidies for fishers, and that seems to be holding up the aid Trump promised, according to Time, that reported that at “one meeting, an Agriculture Department representative asked a member of the Lobster Dealer’s Association, ‘Why don’t you just concentrate on China?’”

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