PORTLAND (AP) – Maine lobstermen and lobster dealers want to make sure people shelling out big bucks for “Maine lobster” in restaurants across the country are not getting “impostor lobsters” from other states or from Canada.

Starting Monday, the Maine Lobster Promotion Council began distributing tags that will be affixed to crustaceans declaring them to be “Certified Maine Lobster.”

“People are crazy about lobster – not just any lobster, but Maine lobster,” said Kristen Millar, the council’s executive director.

With fishing boats and ferries as a backdrop, industry officials and Gov. John Baldacci on Monday gathered at the end of a fishing pier to launch the initiative aimed at adding value to the state’s $300 million lobster industry.

Maine, which is known for its lobster boats, lobster shacks, lobster buoys and lobster dinners, accounts for 80 percent of lobster landings in the United States.

Through research, the Maine Lobster Promotion Council said it determined that consumers prefer Maine lobster, but they don’t always get it.

Millar said there are “impostor lobsters” from other New England states or from Canada that find their way into tanks that supposedly hold “Maine lobster.”

“Look for the tag. Look for the logo. Make sure your lobster is from Maine,” Millar declared. “Don’t buy an ‘impostor lobster.”‘

As part of Maine’s marketing campaign, signs and posters touting Maine lobster will be distributed to restaurants to place in their windows.

Lobster dealers will be encouraged to attach the plastic ties with the trademarked “Certified Maine Lobster” logo. And lobstermen will be given rubber bands emblazoned with the phrase to keep the claws clamped together.

Not surprisingly, Maine lobstermen insist their “lob-stah” is the best. Other lobster-producing states disagree.

“It’s a little presumptuous of them to think that Maine has a better product,” said Bob Nudd, a lobsterman from neighboring New Hampshire.

Nudd’s had lobsters from Canada, Maine, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Australia and Florida. “And there’s no better lobstah around than lobstahs from New Hampshire,” said Nudd, who fishes from Hampton, N.H.

The lobster fishery has come a long way since the colonial times, when cheap and abundant lobsters were fed to servants and prisoners.

Massachusetts saw fit to pass a law limiting the number of times lobster could be served to prisoners to avoid treating them inhumanely.

These days, lobsters are synonymous with Maine, and Maine lobstermen hauled more than 60 million pounds of lobster last year. All that lobster had a boat price of $296 million.

Nonetheless, lobstermen are worried about the future. And some of them fear that the term “Maine lobster” has simply become a generic term for Homarus americanus, the kind of lobster found in the cold waters of the North Atlantic.

In fact, that’s precisely what has happened, said Kevin Weber, executive chef at the Cliff House, a famous seafood restaurant in San Francisco. “As it is right now, the general term of an American lobster is a Maine lobster,” Weber said.

Looking at his daily seafood bid sheet, he noted that there were “Maine lobster tails” for which Canada was cited as the country of origin.

Maine lobstermen hope to change that.

Seeking to draw attention to the new initiative, Baldacci was on hand Monday to demonstrate how to put one of the “Certified Maine Lobster” tags on a 21/2-pound lobster, whose giant claws thumped the microphone stand several times.

After completing the task, lobster dealer Pete McAleney hoisted the lobster up as photographers crowded in and snapped photos.

“It’s a great advertising gimmick, to tell you the truth, but it’ll work,” McAleney said of the plastic tags.

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