The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged Maine’s fishermen and coastal communities in an unprecedented way. Diminished demand for Maine’s seafood has left Maine’s marine economy at risk. The Island Institute and Luke’s Lobster have formed a strategic partnership and leveraged more than $2.5 million in funding and shared financial resources to build new markets for Maine’s premium seafood that will drive economic activity in coastal communities.
This partnership aims to build resilience in the seafood supply chain and provide opportunities for Maine’s fishermen and aquaculturists. The joint venture between Luke’s Lobster, a private business with roots in Tenants Harbor, and the Island Institute, a nonprofit based in Rockland, is a continuation of a longstanding collaboration. For years, the two entities have worked to strengthen Maine’s coastal economies, partnering with fishermen and community leaders to improve resilience along the shore.
Funding will be used to build and diversify the Luke’s Lobster e-commerce business, creating a business model built on a commitment to social outcomes and sustainability that can be replicated across the country. By increasing the availability of lobster, crab, scallops, oysters, and other high quality Maine seafood (both farmed and wild caught), the Island Institute and Luke’s seeks to bolster demand for Maine seafood and ensure enduring opportunities for the state’s fishing communities.
All Maine seafood-related businesses are encouraged to apply, regardless of size.
“Our response to the pandemic is focused on minimizing potentially catastrophic community and economic disruptions while building resilience in anticipation of future crises,” said Rob Snyder, president of the Island Institute.
“Down the peninsulas and out on the islands, we have upwards of 60 percent to 70 percent self-employment. One way the Island Institute supports communities is by helping businesses leverage technology like e-commerce so they can stay in touch with and reach new customers. The lessons we learn from our partnership with Luke’s Lobster will be instrumental in strengthening Maine’s coastal businesses, while informing similar efforts around the country.”
Luke’s Lobster launched its e-commerce platform within days of having to close all but one of its 26 its national shacks and 11 of its international shacks to keep buying from fishermen and bringing seafood to consumers. Initially the direct-to-consumer platform offered its existing seafood inventory, but quickly added seasonal seafood products with short harvest windows such as Gulf of Maine dayboat scallops and fresh halibut. The success of Luke’s Lobster’s online platform will be enhanced through this project, bringing additional Maine seafood products to consumers.
Beyond the economic benefit to harvesters and seafood producers, this funding requires meeting broader environmental and social objectives created collaboratively by Island Institute and Luke’s Lobster. These include providing technical assistance on clean energy and water quality improvement projects to fishing wharves, B Corp training for businesses considering certification, and reinstatement of funding for several projects through Luke’s Lobster Keeper Fund that were put on hold when COVID hit.
The project will also research decarbonization of the seafood supply chain. The shared solutions will enhance the ability of the Island Institute’s Tom Glenn Community Impact Fund to combine decarbonization, solar, and other climate projects with Glenn Fund grants and loans to Maine’s small businesses. The entire project will be overseen by a five-person national advisory committee which will offer feedback and recommendations on an on-going basis.
Driving demand for Maine’s premium seafood requires demystifying seafood for the American consumer. A considerable focus of this partnership will be to create digital content aimed at educating consumers about the ease and health benefits of preparing seafood at home, as well as telling stories of Maine’s fishermen, aquaculturists, and coastal communities. The content production and educational campaign will help ensure Maine’s premium seafood stays top of mind with consumers looking for a sustainable, traceable, and healthy protein.
Maine seafood producers, harvesters, or fishermen interested in offering their products on the Luke’s Lobster website can apply at: https://lukeslobster.getbento.com/maine-seafood-vendor-form/
All applicants will be considered through an objective process which includes review by a selection committee made up of two members from Luke’s Lobster, two members from the Island Institute, and a member from the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. All Maine seafood-related businesses are encouraged to apply, regardless of size.
“This is exactly the type of win-win opportunity we look for,” said Luke Holden, founder and CEO of Luke’s Lobster. “There have been many bumps in the road in 2020 for Luke’s Lobster and the Maine seafood community, but this gives a much needed shot in the arm and helps us leap forward rather than falling behind in our mission to bolster coastal economies and have an enduring social and environmental impact. We can’t wait to bring a broad selection of Maine’s premium seafood to consumers around the country.”