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October is National Co-op Month

a man standing next to a boat

When most of us think about co-ops, we more than likely think about food co-ops.  October is national co-op month (who knew?), and in Maine, in addition to the many local food co-ops, we have a strong and growing culture of co-ops along our coast.  At Luke’s, co-ops have provided us with great partnerships, both on the lobster side and more recently with an oyster co-op.  The concept of co-ops in Maine was a way to help lobstermen (and women) retain more control over their product; co-ops provide lobster-fishermen with one more step of ownership in the downstream distributions chain.  

Functionally, a lobster co-op is essentially a member-owned business.  Lobstermen are members of their co-op, and when they land their lobsters, they sell them to the co-op.  The co-op then sells to the downstream buyer: in the case of the Tenants Harbor Fisherman’s Co-op, The Cranberry Isle Fisherman’s Co-op, Port Clyde Fishermen’s Co-op and Friendship Lobster Co-op, that means selling product to Luke’s.  Co-op’s typically hold back a certain amount per pound to fund operating expenses, and then at the end of the year, with money left “in the kitty”, pay a dividend back to the fishermen.  In this way, fishermen have more ability to negotiate a better price for their product and generate more income for themselves if they operate their co-ops effectively.  Many co-ops do much of their own work, saving money on labor costs which can be reflected in their year end bonus.

With the expanding role of aquaculture along our coast, a few aquaculture co-ops have cropped up over the past several years: The Maine Aquaculture Co-op, a co-op focused on scallop aquaculture, the Georgetown Island Oyster Co-op, and the New Meadow River Shellfish Co-op.

The concept of co-ops generally, founded on principles of working together for the greater good of all, is born out in a variety of ways.  This past spring, the four fishermen’s co-ops we work with came together, with us, to support our frontline workers with lobster lasagna.  This undertaking represents the best of co-ops - the willingness to work together to provide a broader benefit.