Lobster prices are high in the U.S. right now, but members of the industry expect them to come down soon as the Canadian catch creeps up and America's summer haul gets going.
One-pound lobsters, which Mainers call "chicks," are selling for about $12 per pound to consumers, which is a couple of dollars per pound more than six months ago. The U.S. lobster industry, based heavily in Maine, is in a slow mode as fishermen get ready to pull traps in the summer.
The lack of fishing effort and high prices have caused some in the seafood industry to raise the possibility of a shortage, but industry members say quite the opposite is true. Canada's spring fishing season is just starting to heat up, which means prices already are starting to track back down, industry members said.
U.S. lobstermen who were getting $10 per pound for their catch at the dock in March are now getting closer to $6, said Spencer Fuller, a lobster buyer and the president of the Maine Lobster Dealers' Association. Consumers can expect to start seeing that price shift show up at the seafood counter soon.
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"You had weather, nothing around, fairly steady demand, it just drives the price crazy," Fuller said. "Now we're heading toward normalcy."
The wholesale price of 1-pound lobsters fell from $10.78 per pound in April to $8.51 per pound this month in the New England market, according to business publisher Urner Barry. It's typical for lobster prices to fall from April to May, but the May price is still about $1.50 above average, according to Urner Barry data.
Maine's lobster catch fell to about 111 million pounds last year after setting a record of 132.5 million pounds the previous year. It was the lowest total since 2011, though still much more than the typical catch in the 1990s and early 2000s. More than 80 percent of the nation's catch typically comes to shore in Maine, although Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island also have significant lobster fisheries.
Fresh, live lobster is historically a summer food in New England, but the growing globalization of the lobster business is starting to change that. That means demand is sometimes higher in the cooler months once considered the lobster "off season."
Exports to China also have increased, which has resulted in some worry about a potential lobster shortage in the U.S., said Michael King, purchasing director of King's Seafood Co., which operates a distribution center in Santa Ana, California. American catch also appeared to suffer due to bad weather during the already-slow winter season this year, he said.
"It's a double whammy of lower supply plus increase in demand," King said.
But there's every reason to believe there will be plenty of lobster to go around this coming summer, said Kristan Porter, president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association.
Guys are getting gear ready to set," he said. "It's absolutely a typical spring."