Fact check: Trump's trade war pinched Maine's lobster industry. He falsely blames Obama.

Jane C. Timm

President Donald Trump falsely claimed Thursday that it was his predecessor who was responsible for the struggles of Maine's lobster and fishing industries.

After more than three years in office and flagging in the polls against the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Trump positioned himself on Twitter as the industry's champion after signing a memorandum that would direct federal aid dollars to fishermen hurting from the loss of income.

“Now it’s back, bigger and better than anyone ever thought possible,” he wrote in the tweet. “Make lots of money!”

Trump has his facts wrong. It was his trade war with China, which destabilized the industry and cost lobster fishermen big business, that precipitated his administration's bailout, while the industry achieved record sales under former President Barack Obama.

“Since 2018, the lobster industry has been severely impacted by the retaliatory China tariffs,” Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association, said in a statement, adding that the group was "glad that President Trump has heard our concerns."

The president's trade war with China, which saw retaliatory tariffs of 25 percent, and then 35 percent, slapped on U.S. lobster exports,has cost lobster fishermen millions of dollars in sales, a sharp contrast from the historic highs the industry saw year after year during the Obama administration, culminating with the industry's most valuable haul ever in 2016.

The industry was also optimistic about Obama's trade talks with the European Union during his second term that could have reduced the tariffs it faces shipping to those markets. Negotiations stalled after Trump's win, and during his administration, the U.S. industry has suffered as the E.U.'s trade deal with Canada has given Canadian lobstermen a big leg up on the lucrative trade.

And while the industry has welcomed the prospect of bailout dollars, there's no evidence that it's "back, bigger and better" yet, either.

On top of the ongoing trade wars, the coronavirus pandemic has upended the seafood markets. States temporarily shuttered restaurants across the country, curbing domestic demand along the way. Seventy percent of the fishery spending by Americans in 2017 was done outside the home, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

International markets, demand and even the logistics of shipping overseas have been similarly upended by the coronavirus.

Trump also boasted this week about opening up 5,000 square miles of ocean waters near Cape Cod — which Obama had declared a marine national monument — to fishermen, though there are questions about the legality of such a move and environmental groups have sued to stop it. The Bangor Daily News reports that area is too far offshore for most commercial fishermen in the state.

“It was my great honor to free up 5000 square miles of ocean off the coast of Maine. Enjoy!” Trump tweeted.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, applauded the bailout dollars and said that the spending was made necessary by the Trump administration's trade policies.

"After years of hammering Maine’s fishermen with shortsighted trade wars, I am pleased the President is beginning to recognize the harm his Administration’s policies have caused and now wants to take steps to rectify them," she said in a statement Thursday.