Maine’s lobster industry hit hard by US-China trade war

Maine’s lobster exports have plunged

(CNN/Gray News) – One group is drowning in the U.S.-China trade war.

Maine’s lobster exports have plunged nearly 84 percent after the U.S. announced tariffs on Chinese goods last year, and China retaliated with its own set of tariffs – including tariffs on a variety of seafood products.

Then in May, the U.S. announced a tariff increase on Chinese goods. The Chinese government responded by announcing it would raise tariffs on U.S. imports.

Siblings Chelsea and Cody Nunan run a lobster fishing business in Maine. Their family has been plucking lobsters from the waters off the coast for five generations.

Chelsea and Cody now worry they might be the last generation in the business.

"It's scary,” Cody Nunan said. “You know, I have an 8-year-old daughter now. And it's hard for me to want to bring her into this industry."

When asked if she ever thought she would be caught up in an international trade war, Chelsea Nunan answered: "No, never did. I guess that's up to the president."

Wholesalers like Shawn McEwen said these days, business is treading water.

“Any one of the dealers here in the state of Maine, including myself, was shipping, you know, tens of thousands of pounds per week to China. and that went to almost zero,” McEwen said.

The Maine Coast lobster wholesaling company moves 7-million pounds of lobster a year. They’ve aggressively pursued other markets when exports to China collapsed.

They’d like to expand more, but Maine Coast Vice President Sheila Adams said the uncertainty is holding them back.

“I think it’s trying on all of our employees,” Adams said. "We ended the year performing basically on target. We didn't grow as much as we would like to grow, or historically have grown, but we didn't lose."

The industry, holding on for now, has a simple message for President Donald Trump.

"This is American jobs. It's rural jobs,” said Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association. “These are industries that are really, really important for rural America."

For lobstermen like Cody Nunan, who said he likes the president, the tariff war is taking a toll.

"He made it sound very good, you know, when he was running," he said.

But now, Nunan said, “It’s hurting.”

The owner of one lobster company said she’s considering moving her Maine-based company to Canada to start selling lobsters there.

She said she doesn’t want to make the move, but she’s just trying to survive.

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