The American Lobster (Homarus americanus), known to many consumers as Maine lobster (or Lobsta, as Mainers call it) represents a major seafood industry throughout New England and Atlantic Canada. Today, thanks to advanced fishery management and shipping innovation, live, fresh American lobster can be enjoyed from Boston to Beijing. American Lobster can be found in the water from North Carolina to Labrador, with Maine and Nova Scotia typically being the biggest producers.
A near perfect storm (minus George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg) of economic and environmental forces has sent American Lobster prices soaring, according to multiple reports. Money Magazine reported wholesale prices soaring to $6 per pound, an 11 year high.
The price hike is blamed on economic factors such as the newfound popularity of lobster rolls among the millennial generation.
Demand could also be spiking in response to a recent environmental study that estimates global warming will wipe out Maine lobsters in the next 85 years. Those millennials plan ahead!
American Lobster is big business. In 2015, Maine’s lobster harvest alone approached around $500 million, making it the fourth year in a row when the state catch reached over 120 million pounds, according to the state officials. Maine typically accounts for 75-80 percent of the U.S. lobster production. Official figures for the 2016 harvest won’t be released until early 2017.
Exports are also on the rise. U.S. lobster exports increased 10 percent in volume to 7,381 metric tons in 2015, most of which went to China according to the latest figures published by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Italy was the second largest market for U.S. lobster, with Italians buying 782 tons, a 17 percent increase over the prior year. The value of the exports jumped even more–15 percent to $125 million–another sign that prices are rising faster than supply.
Another factor that impacted lobster supply and pricing was a shortage of the most common baitfish used to catch the crustaceans. Herring prices rose throughout the summer as fishermen weren’t able to catch enough of the lobsters’ favorite food to meet demand. Herring prices surged from around $100 per barrel to nearly $200.
In October, the National Marine Fisheries Service shut down herring fishing throughout New England. The organization said that fishermen in the inshore Gulf of Maine – from Cape Cod to the eastern edge of the Maine coast – have caught about 90 percent of their quota.
Earlier in the summer, the Maine Department of Marine Resources imposed a weekly landing limit on herring, limiting each boat to no more than 600,000 pounds per week in order to preserve supplies for later in the summer.
The herring fishery is heavily managed, with quotas divided up among four different zones and rules about what kind of fishing, like purse seine and trawling, can occur in each zone. Most of the nation’s Atlantic herring comes from Georges Bank – an underwater plateau between Maine and Cape Cod. The Georges Bank accounted for about 40 percent of the herring allowed to be landed in 2016. Some 108,975 metric tons of herring are allowed to be pulled from the area.
Lobster companies are lobbying for a greater share of the herring fishery in order to avoid the same problem in future years. They also want a bigger share of the most popular alternative bait fish, menhaden, also known as pogeys.
We had an early inkling of what the market was going to look like and had the opportunity to buy a decent quantity of our High Pressure Processed Whole Lobster and also individual packs of HPP Lobster Tail and HPP Claws.
We also secured a supply of Lobster Stock from a Canadian producer. The happy result is that we’ll be able to sell what we have so presciently brought, at pre-shortage prices. The price to yield ratio will be more than competitive with shell-on lobster, not even factoring in labor; at least until we run out of the product. No lie. We are not the only big fans of this lobster, so give it a try and you will be happily impressed.