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March 19, 2013

Freeing sales of lobster tails

State bill would open door to local sales

Massachusetts’ boats in 2011 landed nearly 14 million pounds of lobster.

While that’s a fraction of the 105 million pounds landed by boats in Maine, which used to use them as an illustration on automobile licence plates, Massachusetts’ second place in state lobster landings is secure.

So, why is it that national restaurant chains that offer American lobster tail dinners in their Massachusetts restaurants import spiny lobster tails sourced and imported from exotic locales such as the Gulf of Mexico, South Africa and Australia?

A Massachusetts law since 1997 has allowed wholesale lobster dealers to process lobsters into frozen shell-on tails for distribution outside the state, but not for in-state sale and use.

Now, a bill to eliminate the anomaly and allow Massachusetts lobsters that are processed into frozen shell-on tails and parts to be sold and used here is before the Legislature’s and Joint Natural Resources Committee. And it has the support of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, with a clear economic rationale for letting Massachusetts shell-on products to be served and eaten where they’re caught.

“It will definitely help us dealers,” said Vince Mortillaro, of Mortillaro Lobster Co., 60 Commercial St.

Gloucester is the state’s No. 1 port in lobster landings, with 3.1 million pounds worth $11.7 million in 2011. New Bedford, which dominates the scallop fishery, was second to Gloucester in lobster landings with 1.3 million pounds and $5.78 million in ex vessel value landed.

The bill would put Massachusetts on a legally level playing field with Maine, which authorized the production and in-state sale of lobster parts in 2009.

“We believe that by allowing the in-state sale of this product we can increase local demand and production and thereby improve the price per pound paid to our Massachusetts commercial lobstermen,” said William A. Adler, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association

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