New England lobstermen still fishing thanks to mild winter

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PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Many New England lobstermen are still fishing deep into December this year because of unseasonably warm weather and an abundance of the critters, and Maine's beloved scallops are a little harder to come by as a result.

The extra fishing hasn't done much to change the price of lobsters, which are selling in the range of $8 to $10 per pound in Maine, typical for this time of year, when Canada is also hauling in large catches. But some lobstermen in Maine, the biggest lobster-producing state, also fish for scallops and haven't made the transition to the winter scalloping season because lobster fishing is still strong.

As a result, Maine scallops — which usually cost about $20 per pound — have been slightly more expensive, sometimes selling in the $25-per-pound range, and some retailers are low on supply. Alex Todd, a Portland scallop and lobster fisherman, said he expects scallop fishing in the southern part of the state to pick up in mid-January. Supply from scallop-rich Cobscook Bay is helping feed demand for now, he said.

"There's not very many being landed right here in Casco Bay," said Todd, who is still fishing for lobsters.

Lobster fishing off New England peaks in the summer, and the fleet typically reduces to a few hardy souls when the cold months arrive. But more boats than usual are still on the water this year because conditions remain good, fishermen and dealers said. Temperatures were expected to remain above average in much of New England on Monday.

Rockland, Maine, lobster dealer Jamie Steeves said there has been no trouble selling the extra catch, and he suspects some will end up on tables for holiday celebrations.

"Everyone's doing well right now. There's a lot of bugs around," Steeves said, using a colloquial term for lobsters. "The weather has been good. It absolutely has affected the industry by letting people get out more."

The warm winter comes amid several consecutive strong seasons for New England lobstering. Lobster catches have topped 100 million pounds per year for six straight years after never previously reaching that mark, according to federal statistics that go back to 1950.

David Cousens, president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, said the extra catch is nice, but this winter's warm waters are also troubling because they mean lobsters are more susceptible to disease. He said the water temperature in the Gulf of Maine is hovering around 47 degrees, a few degrees higher than typical for this time of year.

"It's not good that the ocean's not cooling down. We need it to cool down," Cousens said. "If they don't take their long winter's nap, they're more susceptible to shell disease."

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