John Dennen has a lot of time on his hands. A lobsterman in Harpswell, he is normally busy fishing this time of year. But this fall is different. The price of diesel fuel and bait is much higher than in years past, and the price of lobster is lower than it has ever been.

"There comes a time where it's not worth it to go out," he said. For Dennen, that point came a few weeks ago when he pulled his traps and gear out of the water.

Every lobsterman deals with the crisis differently. Some go out more to compensate for the lower prices, some stop fishing altogether. The ones that continue "are a lot more careful about when they go out," said Jess McGreehan '08, who works as a sternman on a lobster boat in Portland. If they do go, they fish differently than when the market was better. Lobstermen might set more traps to compensate for the low price, re-use bait, or more carefully plan trap placements to minimize the amount of time the boat is running, said Anne Hayden, the Coastal Studies scholar-in-residence and adjunct lecturer in Environmental Studies, who specializes in fishery management.

Many of the lobstermen who are still fishing have payments on their boats to pay off.

"People have to pay the bills, they have to go out," said Andy King '08, who works as a sternman in Harpswell. If lobstermen can't make payments, they lose their boats."

"Plenty of boats have been under foreclosure," Dennen said. Like other older fishermen, Dennen owns his boat and gear and is not as vulnerable to the ups and downs of the market. "The younger guys are the ones most at risk of being squeezed out of the market, they're the ones who should stick around because they're the next generation."

Both Hayden and Dennen agree that the problem stems from a lack of control over the situation. Lobstermen cannot set the price of their inputs, bait, and fuel, or their output, lobster. As the prices of fuel and bait skyrocketed this summer, they had little choice but to pay.

"You either buy it or you don't fish," Dennen said.

Adding to the strain created by high overhead costs, the price of lobster plummeted this fall. The forces at play that contributed to the drop in price extend well beyond the Maine coast. Hayden explained the process as a two-part problem.

Firstly, in recent years, improvements in technology have allowed lobster meat and live lobsters to be shipped farther than ever before. Lobsters have become popular in Europe and Asia, and, as a result of the new markets, demand has increased. While lobstermen formerly relied on mostly domestic markets, they now make most of their money in sales to Canadian processors who ship the lobsters around the world. The Canadian processors buy most of their lobsters in October; as a result lobstermen depend on fall sales for most of their income.

In a confusing series of interactions that illustrate the dependence of lobstermen on financial institutions they never interact with, Canadian processors get most of their credit from Icelandic banks, many of which have taken a serious hit in this fall's financial crisis. Consequently, the banks are unwilling to lend as much or as easily as before, and the Canadian processors can no longer get loans to buy lobsters from people like John Dennen. When they stopped buying, the market was suddenly flooded with lobster and the price plummeted.

"Dealers in Maine started telling fishermen not to go out because they won't make up fuel and bait costs," Hayden said.

Secondly, domestic demand for lobster has dropped as well.

"The perception is that lobster is a high-end, luxury item," Dennen said. Even though the price of lobster is around $3.00 a pound?about the price of chicken?the perception that lobster is expensive has kept sales low.

The Orient found that the price of lobster at some local restaurants is still high, a phenomenon Hayden called the "lag-affect in lowering prices." Joshua's Tavern in Brunswick charged $19 for a lobster roll. However, a lobster dinner at Something's Fishy in Brunswick costs $10.99 and $18.95 at Cook's Lobster House on Bailey Island. A Cook's employee said normally lobster dinners cost $28.95 but "we're trying to sell more to help our lobstermen out."

According to Hayden, it makes sense that the problems facing the lobster industry are largely of external origin, as the Maine lobster fishery has a reputation of being one of the best-managed fisheries in the world. Long before federal regulations were implemented, lobstermen managed the fishery themselves. Many lobstermen and scientists say locals managed the fishery better on their own than with government oversight.

"The interference of the Feds has not helped at all," said Dennen, referring to regulations that limit the amount of traps each lobsterman can have. "They think the fishery is over-fished but there is no evidence that's true." He cites the statistic that lobster landings, or the amount of lobsters caught every year, have stayed stable for the past 60 years. Hayden explained that statistic by arguing that lobstermen have adhered to local regulations on their own.

"How does this happen?" Hayden asks, referring to the sustained lobster yields, "Well, the lobstermen know what they're doing."