Prices of lobster are up slightly from last year amid the decline in catch, Maine Import Export Lobster Dealers' Association's President Tim Harkins said. The value of last year's lobster fishery was $2.89 per pound, the second lowest figure in the past 18 years.
Molting could start happening "any day now," Wilson said, adding that this year's molt appears similar to what the state typically experienced 10 years ago. The last two years — which brought record catches of more than 125 million pounds of lobster each — were seasons that featured an early molt, he said.
Wilson and lobstermen said they expect the season to take off after shedding and to end up as a strong one.
"The trend has been earlier and earlier each year," Wilson said. "It's not when they start, it's where they end up."
Lobsters molt so they can grow into new, larger shells, often shedding 25 or more times in the first five to seven years of life. After that, adult males molt about once per year and females once every two years. They can be legally harvested in Maine once their carapace reaches 3 1/4 inches long. A recently molted lobster, which has a soft shell, is typically called a "shedder" by Maine lobstermen and savvy consumers.
The state's lobster industry, which accounted for 85 percent of the nation's catch in 2012, has boomed, topping a record $364 million in 2013. The abundance of lobsters has sparked tensions between the industry players in the U.S. and Canada, where Canadian fishermen blockaded truckloads of Maine lobsters from processing plants in 2012 because of falling wholesale prices.
David Cousins, president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association and a South Thomaston lobsterman, said lobstermen expect shedding to pick up and catches to escalate at the end of this month, if not the end of the week. He said the slow season indicates that Maine lobster are "back on the old time clock" of shedding later in the summer.
Rockland lobster dealer Jamie Steeves said he also expects the season to pick up soon, but he added the slow start has been a pain for an industry that grew accustomed to early starts and huge catches in 2012 and 2013. However, he said, it's not time to panic.
"Lobsters will take care of themselves," he said. "It's going to be a normal year."
Harkins, of the dealers' group, also remained confident.
"This is more representative of a traditional lobstering season," Harkins said. "The lobsters will come."