Maine Lobster Sales Surge in Winter for Chinese New Year

In New England, the appetite for Maine lobster peaks in the summer, but halfway across the world, that hunger hits in the dead of winter.

Lobster has become a big part of Chinese New Year, which is the week of Feb. 8-12. It;s the nation's largest celebration, and as Cindy Han, a board member of the Chinese and American Friendship Association explains, it is centered around food.

"Almost every Chinese New Year meal is going to have fish," said Han.

It's one dish in particular that's surging in popularity: Maine lobster.

"Their appetite keeps getting bigger and bigger," said John Leavitt, the vice president of sales at Ready Seafood in Portland, Maine. Leavitt said last year, his company exported around 12 million pounds of lobster to China.

"The last five, six years it's really started to boom," said Leavitt.

Federal statistics show the same trend. In 2009, U.S. lobster exports to China amounted to about $2 million. Last year, that number rose to $90 million.

"There is a burgeoning middle class," said Han. "Lobster is one of those special sea food dishes that ... they couldn't get easily before."

The average Maine lobsterman fishing in the winter is seeing a difference. According to Steve Train, the lobster price has stabilized this winter. There is an increase in volume, and without an increase in demand from China, the price could fall.

"We're maintaining, especially this year, a price that we think is what the product is worth," said Train.

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