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Fact checking Trump’s claims about the Maine lobster industry

A lobsterman unpacked a lobster on a wharf in Portland, Maine.
A lobsterman unpacked a lobster on a wharf in Portland, Maine.Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

In another tweet rife with falsehoods, President Trump on Wednesday alleged that his predecessor, Barack Obama, “destroyed the lobster and fishing industry in Maine.”

He added: “Now it’s back, bigger and better than anyone ever thought possible. Enjoy your ‘lobstering’ and fishing! Make lots of money!”

The truth is that in 2016, the last year of Obama’s presidency, Maine had a record lobster catch. Not that Obama had anything to do with it, but during his eight years in office, Maine’s lobster catch nearly doubled in landings and value.

The catch rose from less than 70 million pounds in 2008 to more than 132 million pounds in 2016, which remains the record. In the same period, the value of the catch surged from $245 million to a record $540 million.

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By contrast, the lobster catch has declined since Trump came into office. While landings and value have remained high — in historical terms — the catch declined by nearly 25 percent last year compared to Obama’s final year in office.

Maine lobstermen last year caught just over 100 million pounds, which earned them $485 million, a value of about 10 percent less than Obama’s final year in office.

Trump’s policies have actually harmed the lobster industry, which had previously experienced years of growing exports to Asia.

In 2018, when Trump launched a trade war by imposing tariffs on a wide range of Chinese products, China retaliated with a 25 percent levy on $34 billion worth of American goods, including lobster.

As a result, lobster exports to China cratered.

Last year, US lobster sales there declined to less than $47 million through November — down from more than $138 million in 2018, through the same month.

Much of Maine’s export business has since been taken up by Canada, where lobster sales to China have surged. Many in Maine worry that the longer the trade war continues, the more likely it is that Maine’s lobstermen will permanently lose the market to their competitors across the border.

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This year, since the pandemic began and restaurants closed throughout the country, the lobster industry has suffered even more.

Trump’s tweet appears to refer to his recent decision to allow commercial fishing in the East Coast’s only marine monument, which Obama created during his last year in office. Trump announced the decision during a visit earlier this month to Maine.

However, there's only a small amount of lobster fishing that occurs in the protected area, and few lobstermen from Maine make the trip there. The marine monument is 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod.

Moreover, when Obama created the 5,000-square-mile preserve to protect a range of unique coral, rare fish, and endangered marine mammals, he grandfathered the lobster and crab fishing industry in through 2023, meaning that there has been no impact on the industry there so far.

Trump’s tweet also seemed to be referring to a memorandum he signed Wednesday that directed the Department of Agriculture to extend farm bailout aid to the lobster industry. The $16 billion aid package covered commodities such as barley, corn, and wheat, but to the consternation of a bipartisan group of officials in Maine, it didn’t include lobster.

In the memorandum, Trump called the lobster industry “a crown jewel of America’s seafood industry,” noting it’s the nation’s most valuable single seafood species. Eighty percent of the lobster catch is harvested by Maine fishermen.

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It’s unclear from the memo how much money will be provided to lobstermen. Trump is leaving it to the secretary of agriculture to decide within the next two months.

Trump’s memorandum also directed US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to report this summer on whether China is complying with a promise to purchase $150 million in lobster under the “phase one” agreement signed by the president earlier this year.

If not, Trump threatened that the United States would impose retaliatory tariffs on the Chinese seafood industry.


David Abel can be reached at david.abel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.