There’s a lobster glut in Maine… so why are you still paying so much?
(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)
It’s booming times if you’re in the Maine lobster industry, which now makes up 80 percent of the country’s lobster production.
Bloomberg columnist Justin Fox reports that lobster catches in the state are now seven times the average levels before 2000. Last year, Maine’s lobster harvest was more than twice what it was just 10 years ago at 130 million pounds, despite the rise in cost of herring, the primary bait used for catching the shellfish. The reasons are numerous: state laws requiring fisherman to throw back lobsters that are too small, too big or are carrying eggs. The depletion of fish, like cod, that feed on lobsters. Warming oceans creating better conditions for New England and Canada which are drawing lobsters further north. A reduction in disease and improved efficiency from the lobster fisherman.
So why am I still paying a premium price for a half-pound lobster just a few hundred miles down the road in Philadelphia when there’s a glut of the stuff up north? You can blame it on the Chinese. They love their lobster rolls. So much so that just in January, five chartered 747s “full of live lobsters” flew from Nova Scotia to China to satisfy the needs of Chinese New Year revelers. Maine shipped about $27 million worth of lobsters to China alone in 2016. This has kept the average price of a pound of lobster between three and four dollars over the past 30 years.
Not everyone’s cashing in, writes Fox. A typical lobster fisherman that brings in about 40,000 pounds annually can expect to make about $45,000 a year after costs. While this, along with a spouse’s income, can “pay for a comfortable lifestyle” in Maine, it’s not exactly the road to riches.