At face value, a new bill that would free up Massachusetts lobster dealers and others to sell lucrative tails and other lobster parts to in-state restaurants only makes sense, especially since they were already free to sell for out-of-state use.
Indeed, the idea that national restaurant chains such as Red Lobster could not sell Massachusetts-landed lobster tails at their restaurants in the Bay State may seem absurd — especially given that meant they had to import those spiny lobster tails from places such as the Gulf of Mexico, South Africa and even Australia, theoretically cutting off the market to local lobstermen and wholesalers.
But before the state Legislature rushes into a measure that has all the best economic intentions, it’s also important to make certain that there are protections aimed at addressing the chief reason for this limitation in the first place. If — or more likely when — lawmakers open the domestic Massachusetts lobster tail market, they must be certain they’re not also opening new avenues to poachers who might try to bring the tails of egg-bearing or short lobsters to market, as well, in a move that could have dire impacts on the overall health of lobster stocks down the road.
The bill now before the Legislature’s Joint Natural Resources Committee — one that would essentially pull back the 1997 law limiting tail sales to out-of-state vendors and sites — has the support of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, and understandably so. It also has the backing of local lobster dealers, like Vince Mortillaro of Mortillaro Lobster Co. in the heart of Gloucester, the state’s No. 1 port in lobster landings, with 3.1 million pounds worth $11.7 million in 2011.
Yet everyone in the lobstering industry would benefit from a mandate within the bill that all sales for in-state use run through dealers and processors who can ensure that the tails are taken from lobsters that are not egg-bearing and of legal size.
In opening new doors for the industry, it’s crucial for the state to ensure that it’s not closing doors on the lobster fishery’s sustainability and future growth.