Mayday, Mayday: Maine's Lobstermen Need Exemption From Federal Antitrust Laws
In Portland, Maine, the summer of 2012 was one for the ages. The weather was spectacular, Mumford & Sons graced the scenic Eastern Promenade with a legendary outdoor concert, and soft-shell lobster was available at downtown wharfs for historically low prices. Everything was seemingly perfect—“the way life should be.” But along Maine’s rocky coast another storyline was unfolding: the immense and crippling financial struggles of Maine’s lobstermen. Despite waking up before dawn, performing intense manual labor and braving the high seas day after day, many Maine lobstermen returned to the docks to sell their catch at the end of the day with little hope of making a legitimate profit. On certain days, some lobstermen were unable to cover even their basic fuel and bait costs. And the worst part of it all? There was seemingly nothing lobstermen could do to better their circumstances due to a decades-old consent decree that has been in effect since before many of the current lobstermen were even born. This Comment will examine the alternatives available to Maine lobstermen as they attempt to execute their right to earn an honest living. Part II will discuss the history of the Maine lobster industry, with a focus on the dramatic events that unfolded in the 1950s, and reveal how history appears to be repeating itself. Part III will identify the relevant federal antitrust laws and explain how their application to the Maine lobstermen effectuates an absurd result. Finally, Part IV will analyze the options available to Maine lobstermen to remedy this situation—including invalidation of the consent decree, avenues for exemption from federal antitrust violations (namely, the agricultural exemption), along with additional strategies that could be implemented for relief. The vitality of Maine’s lobster industry is critically important to Maine’s economy, image, and lifestyle. Therefore, governmental actors in Maine should answer this distress signal.