Lobster Populations Surging as Coastal Waters Warm

Published September 6, 2012

Lobster is becoming more affordable for middle- and low-income families as warmer waters off the coast of New England are causing a surge in lobster populations. With more lobsters showing up in lobstermen’s pots, prices for the delicacy have fallen dramatically.

Huge Catches

This summer, off-the-boat prices for Maine lobsters fell to as low as $1.25 a pound, or about 70 percent below normal prices. Maine and eastern Canada supply most of the world’s commercially sold lobsters. 
Robert Bayer, executive director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine, says many lobsters molted early this year into legal size all at once.

“This has never happened before—the catches are huge. But we have to keep this all in perspective. This is only a snapshot and may not be indicative of what the situation will be next year,” he explained.

Although business has been good for consumers, the lobster glut created problems for fisherman, Bayer noted. 

“Since there are only a few processing facilities in Maine, the lobsters were stacking up on the docks and in storage facilities with nowhere to be processed,”  he said.

Prices Drop Dramatically

Rather than lose their catch, Maine fishermen shipped them to Canada for processing, but this caused problems for their Canadian counterparts, who have a shorter season which consists of only 10 weeks. 

With so many lobsters on the market, the price inevitably dropped. According to Bayer, the price today is between $2 and $2.50 a pound off the boat; the price last year was between $3.50 and $4.50 a pound.

“When the prices dropped in the low $3’s and even $2’s, some of the fishermen quit taking the boats out. Others tried to make it up through volume, but the more they brought in, the lower the prices became,” said Bill Adler, head of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association. 

“As they started piling up on the docks, the prices started going down, and they were the lowest I’ve seen in 15 years,” said Adler. 

Doug Ray, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, says this summer’s catch was definitely an aberration.

“The warm winter contributed to the huge supply this summer, … causing lower prices than we’ve seen in a long time,” Ray said.

Governor Seeks New Markets

Each summer and fall, Maine lobstermen ships millions of pounds of lobsters to Canada, where they’re processed and sold for the retail and foodservice markets, mostly in the United States. Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) says the state must increase the number of processing plants in Maine so the industry can add more value and the jobs remain at home. 

On the demand side, LePage is planning a trade mission to China in September to expand the Asian market for Maine lobster, which grew 600 percent last year.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.