October is National Co-op Month
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.