AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Members of Maine's lifeblood lobster industry said Monday the state should keep funding a marketing group that uses fees from industry members to promote the seafood all over the country.

Fishermen, dealers and processors pay to fund the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, which has an annual budget of $2.2 million and has been the subject of criticism from some members who say they don't see enough return on that investment.

But the industry came out in support of the collaborative, which needs legislative approval to keep operating past this year, at a state legislative committee hearing on Monday.

Numerous lobstermen and dealers said they think the group is important to promote the story of Maine lobster. But they also said they want a clearer picture of where their money's going and what the collaborative's mission is.

"This is about story. It's about food. And it's about brand and protecting our Maine brand," said John Hathaway, owner of Shucks Maine Lobster in Richmond, Maine. "Just doing the same program over and over will not make it better."

The Legislature's Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources held Monday's hearing and could take a vote on the proposal to extend the collaborative on Feb. 14.

Matt Jacobson, executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, said before the hearing that one of the group's key functions is to get chefs interested in serving Maine lobster.

"This is volatile market and it's a volatile time in the world," he said. "If you're not telling your story, other people will tell there's, and you'll get eliminated from people's choices."

Maine is by far the biggest lobster producing state in the U.S., and the product is in the midst of unprecedented growth in volume and value of catch. Fishermen caught more than 130 million pounds of lobster in 2016, and they were paid more than $530 million for the crustaceans at the docks.

Five years previously, fishermen caught less than 105 million pounds and it was worth about $200 million less. But some lobstermen said on Monday that they fear the catch is starting to slow down after several record years.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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