Lobster Prices Are at Record Lows, But Only in New England

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I'm a lobster, and I'm at near-record low prices.

An unseasonably mild winter has created a glut of lobsters along the Northeast that is pushing prices to record lows. Lobstermen across the region are trying to figure out how to boost demand. But don’t rejoice over cheap lobster just yet — unless you’re in New England.

Remember that really mild winter a few months back? Seemed pretty harmless, even positive. Construction crews were able to do work that’s normally put off until the spring. Cities saved on spreading salt on roads and highways. And those of us who hate the cold were able to spend more time outside without trudging through the snow.

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But the unseasonably warm winter had some less beneficial effects as well. Bugs are wreaking havoc on places like central Louisiana. Mosquitoes that would normally have died off over the winter months are expected to vastly increase their populations this summer. More people in California are getting bit by rattlesnakes, also strangely tied to the mild winter. And in the waters off Maine, soft-shelled lobster populations are exploding.

Lobstermen are generally unable to make a profit if lobster is under $4 a pound. But a glut in soft-shelled lobsters within the last couple months has caused prices to fall as low as $1.25 a pound, close to a 30-year low for this time of year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The mild winter, along with a relatively warm spring, seems to have contributed to lobsters losing their shells much earlier than expected – about six weeks sooner. Canadian seafood processors, which buy up a large share of Northeastern lobster, weren’t prepared for the surplus. And all this happened before the New England tourist season got fully underway as well.

That’s forced lobstermen to try to work together to temporarily halt trapping so they can reduce supplies and increase demand. A number of lobstermen have reportedly kept their boats in the harbor and have foregone trapping. The Journal reports that 30 vessels in Winter Harbor, Me., sat idle for a full week. But many of them are back at work this week, although it appears their efforts had little to no effect on raising the price.

Meanwhile, consumers in Maine and Massachusetts are going lobster crazy. The crustacean, often the priciest item on any menu, is much cheaper than normal in restaurants and markets. In Massachusetts, prices remained steady for about a week but began dropping this weekend. Stores across Massachusetts and Maine are now reporting “fabulous” sales.

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“We’re serving lobsters like crazy,” one Rockport, Mass., restaurant owner told the Boston Business Journal. “Everyone’s coming in and talking about the prices and want lobsters.”

But consumers outside of the Northeast aren’t likely to see prices drop. That’s because the lobster population that has exploded six weeks earlier than usual are soft-shelled lobsters, which can’t be shipped long distances. Those lobsters are basically staying right where they’re caught.

The glut is increasing an already robust lobster supply in the U.S., which has been gradually rising since the mid-1970s. But with prices dropping to such low levels, it could force some lobstermen into bankruptcy if they don’t rise soon. Demand in New England has picked up, but not enough to boost prices yet.

The Maine Lobster Promotion Council is even launching a new campaign, which will include restaurant and retail promotions, to boost demand. So if you’re in the Northeast, do yourself and lobstermen a favor: Eat some lobster.