How to Start a Lobster Fishing Business

Lobster is a much-loved delicacy that many people pay premium prices for. Most of the cold-water lobsters used in recipes are caught by lobster fishing businesses in New England.

Since 2012, when a record-setting catch sent lobster prices plummeting, the lobster fishery has recovered and is now booming. The industry has invested heavily in education and marketing, creating new markets both domestically and abroad in China (where lobsters sell for as much as $100 each). Thanks to these efforts, lobster fishing businesses are now seeing near-record catches and prices for lobster are remaining high.

Learn how to start your own Lobster Fishing Business and whether it is the right fit for you.

Start a lobster fishing business by following these 9 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your lobster fishing business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

STEP 1: Plan your Business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

What are the costs involved in opening a lobster fishing business?

The costs of opening a lobster fishing business are substantial. Business owners need:

  • A lobster boat, which costs $200,000 fully equipped
  • Lobster traps, which cost $80 each with a buoy
  • A license, which costs $167 to $501
  • Trap tags, which cost $0.50 each

Based on these figures, outfitting a new business with 800 traps would cost a little over $264,400.

Business owners who aren't able to obtain a license or outfit a boat probably shouldn’t enter this industry. While Maine lets residents place up to five lobster traps for personal use, there are harsh penalties for selling lobster without a commercial license.

What are the ongoing expenses for a lobster fishing business?

The ongoing expenses for a lobster fishing business are substantial. They include annual licensing fees, boat maintenance and repairs, fuel, and bait. Bait alone can cost $300 per day, and a new engine could run $30,000.

Who is the target market?

Cold water lobsters ultimately end up in restaurants and supermarkets, but lobster fishing businesses don’t sell directly to these businesses. Instead, fishers sell to wharf owners. Most wharf owner then sell catches to processors or distributors.

How does a lobster fishing business make money?

A lobster business makes money by selling the lobster that’s caught. The lobster is sold to the owner of the wharf that a lobster fishing business uses, and most businesses consistently dock at the same wharf.

How much can you charge customers?

In 2012, lobster fishers sold their catches for $2.00 to $2.50 per pound. That was a historic 30-year low, and the price has increased since.

How much profit can a lobster fishing business make?

For those who manage to get licenses, lobster fishing can be profitable despite the costs that come with running this type of business. Some business owners clear six figures in profits annually.

How can you make your business more profitable?

Since how much they make is dependant on what their wharf owner pays for their catch, business owners can increase their profits by selecting the best-paying wharf in the area. Co-ops that own wharves and call around to see what buyers are paying the most tend to offer business owners the best possible prices.

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is very important. If you don’t have a name in mind already, read our detailed guide on how to name a business or get some help brainstorming a name with our Lobster Fishing Business Name Generator.

Then, when registering a business name we recommend checking if the business name is available in your state, federally by doing a trademark search, searching the web, and making sure the name you choose is available as a web domain to secure it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your lobster fishing business is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.

Form Your LLC

Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC

Have a Professional Service Form your LLC for You

Two such reliable services:

Check out the Top Business Formation Services from our friends at StartupSavant.

You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!

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You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
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Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.

STEP 5: Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a lobster fishing business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For information about local licenses and permits:

Food Regulations

When selling food, you will need licensing from a local health department; all establishments serving food are required to pass a health inspection. Tips for faring well on a health inspections

There are federal regulations regarding what can and cannot be added to, sold as, and processed with food. Attached is a resource from the Food and Drug Administration detailing the process of starting a food business: How to Start a Food Business

Liability Waivers

To avoid liability and potential lawsuits, Lobster fishing businesses should have their clients sign waivers.

An example of an appropriate waiver can be found here.

Labor Safety Requirements

The lobster fishing business can present some occupational hazards, so it is important that you follow all of the regulations set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

STEP 7: Get Business Insurance

Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.

There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.

Learn more about General Liability Insurance.

Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.

Recommended: Learn what business insurance for your Lobster Fishing Business will cost.

Business Insurance for
Lobster Fishing Business

STEP 8: Define your brand

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

How to promote & market a lobster fishing business

Because lobster fishing businesses sell directly to the wharf they dock at, there’s little marketing the business owners need to do. The most they must do is find a wharf to dock at. Wharves may be privately owned by a company, family owned or owned by a co-op.

How to keep customers coming back

Business owners in Maine don’t have to worry about retaining customers, but they do need to keep their licenses. Under the current system, lobster fishers who give up their license for any reason must again go through the two-year apprenticeship and wait for a new license. Until the licensing system changes, business owners should do whatever they can to keep their licenses.

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Start A Lobster Fishing Business In Your State

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Is this Business Right For You?

Anyone who enjoys being on the water and working alone may enjoy running a lobster fishing business. Business owners spend a lot of time by themselves on their boats, pulling up and replacing lobster traps.

Some business owners catch lobster year-round, while others do it as a seasonal business. Winter brings harsh working conditions, and catches are sometimes smaller during the colder months.

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Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?

Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!

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What happens during a typical day at a lobster fishing business?

Catching lobster is hard work. Hauling days start before sunrise, and business owners will haul traps for hours on end. During this time, they’re:

  • Pulling up traps
  • Grabbing and banding lobsters
  • Removing debris from traps
  • Re-baiting traps
  • Dropping traps

At the end of the day, business owners bring their catch to a wharf where it’s sold.

On non-hauling days and during the winter, business owners spend time mending their traps, repairing their boat, and focusing on other aspects of their business.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful lobster fishing business?

In order to obtain a Maine lobster license, prospective business owners must first work as an apprentice on a lobster boat for at least two years. They can only apply for a license after a captain endorses them, and the waiting list for licenses is lengthy. Applicants wait years, and at times even decades.

Maine is reviewing the current licensing system as the population of lobster fishers ages.

What is the growth potential for a lobster fishing business?

The growth potential for a lobster business is finite. Maine accounts for about 80 percent of the United States’ lobster fishery, and the state heavily regulates the industry. Commercial lobster fishers in Main must be licensed, and there’s a limit of one license and one boat per person. The number of traps that a licensed business owner can drop is limited to 800.

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Take the Next Step

Find a business mentor

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Resources to Help Women in Business

There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:

  • Funding
  • Events
  • Guides
  • Support

If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a lobster fishing business?

While Maine is a difficult state to start a lobster fishing business in, the state’s waters are the most promising for lobster fishing businesses.

As ocean waters have warmed, the waters in Southern New England and the Mid Atlantic have become too warm for lobster to reproduce at a respectable rate. In contrast, the waters in the Gulf of Maine have become the perfect temperature for lobsters. Lobsters are breeding at faster rates in these waters, which largely why business owners are seeing record catches.

Thus, lobster businesses in Maine have much more potential than those in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.

How and when to build a team

Lobster fishers may choose to work alone or with an apprentice. Some have family members help on the boat, especially if the license holder is older and children/grandchildren are waiting for a license. Business owners can hire an apprentice or family member as is appropriate for their situation.

Next Steps

Get more ideas with our Business Ideas Generator.

Check out our How to Start a Business page.

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