Forget about waiting for lobster bakes on
sandy beaches. While summertime is lobster season in Maine, those
craving the crustacean can curl up this winter with a piping-hot
bowl of lobster stew without taking a big punch to the pocketbook.
A glut of lobster in Canada caused by an overestimation of
millennium celebration sales and a plentiful winter harvest there
has flooded Maine with lobsters from its northern neighbor.
The pipeline has created a buyer's market, with prices headed
downward instead of upward, as they normally do in the winter.
Retail prices dropped by $1 and more per pound last week.
"Now's the time to go get lobster," said Jeff Holden,
president of the industry group Maine Lobster Processors Inc. and
of the Portland Shellfish processing plant in South Portland.
Lobster normally runs about $7 a pound retail during the
Christmas and New Year's holidays. During this year's millennium
holiday, lobster prices in Portland ranged upwards of $9. But
because of the glut, prices have since dropped as low as $6, said
Bob Brown, executive director of the Maine Import-Export Lobster
Dealers Association in Edgecombe.
Some in the industry would not be surprised to see retailers
taking advantage of the glut by running specials for as low as
$4.99 a pound at supermarkets, a price more often seen in summer.
How long lobster prices remain low, or if prices go even lower,
remains to be seen. But customers should enjoy it while it lasts.
"It's never happened since I've been fishing that prices have
gone down in January," said Frank Strout of Cape Elizabeth, who
has been lobstering for 25 years.
Besides being good for customers at the checkout counter, the
lower prices are good for Maine processing plants that normally
shut down lobster operations in the winter, Holden said.
But anyone caught holding onto lobsters in anticipation of the
normal winter price increase could be hurt.
Fortunately for Maine dealers, they did not stock up or hold
lobsters back like their counterparts in Canada. Brown said Maine
dealers never bought into the idea that there would be a worldwide
run on lobster for New Year's Eve.
It's too soon to say how long the deflated prices will be
around, Brown said. But it's not terribly unusual for lobster
prices to dip after the holidays, then rise again in February, he
For now, there is no end in sight to the glut because Canadian
lobstermen, who fish mostly during the winter, are continuing to
haul in bountiful traps. Maine lobstermen do most of their fishing
in the summer but some continue through the winter.
The few Maine lobstermen who continue fishing in winter have
seen the boat price of lobster drop to $3.50 a pound and then to
$3.25 a pound in the last week, said Pat White, executive director
of the Maine Lobstermen's Association. Normally, the boat price
ranges from $2.50 a pound in summer to $4 or more in winter, he
"The lower price does hurt those doing winter fisheries,"
White said. "Even when there's a good day, some of the guys aren't
going out, just waiting for this to pass."
The lower prices are a regional anomaly. Other parts of the
country likely won't see any decreases in price because of the
costs of shipping the lobsters.
White said the fluctuations are all part of the unpredictable
nature of the lobstering business.
"If we had a crystal ball, we would all be millionaires,"
White said. "This is a very funny business."