ELLSWORTH — Think $22 a pound is a lot for fresh caught scallops shucked and out of the shell? How about $9.99 a pound for a live lobster – the price at Hannaford in Bar Harbor this week?
Based on the industry-standard yield estimate of one-third pound of meat per pound of live lobster, that works out to about $30 per pound for lobster meat. And that would be a bargain if you could find lobster meat at that price.
On Monday afternoon, Yankee Lobster, a large fish dealer in Boston, was charging $50 per pound for a mix of lobster tail and claw meat, $55 for tails only.
Luxury purveyor Brown Trading Co. in Portland posted a price on its website of $110 per pound for its mix of “True Maine Lobster Tail, Claw and Knuckle Meat – steamed, picked and ready to eat.” Several smaller Maine dealers were advertising lobster meat for $55-$60 per pound.
Despite those staggering retail prices, the demand for lobster continues to grow, and the December and early January weather has kept both Maine and Canadian lobstermen off the water more days than not.
At Beal’s Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor, Sales Manager Rob Bauer said there was an adequate supply of lobsters to meet demand. Landings were “all weather-related,” he said, with most lobsters coming from the offshore fishery.
“On a bluebird day,” fair even if cold and with light winds, “there is plenty of production.”
Bad weather is nothing new for this time of year. What is new is the seemingly insatiable demand for lobsters in Europe and especially in China.
That demand is likely to increase with the approach of the Chinese New Year on Jan. 28. Most of the lobsters that will supply that holiday market, though, will come from Canada, not Maine, according to Matt Jacobson, executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative.
“The fishery is cyclical,” Jacobson said. “They [Canadian lobstermen] fish in winter. We fish mostly in the summer.”
That cycle is good for Maine lobstermen, Jacobson said, especially the excitement surrounding the coming holiday that gets people thinking about lobster.
“Chinese New Year is a great demand input,” he said. “It’s helpful to paint a story that drives more demand.”
That could have an impact on the Maine lobster market and prices later in the year around Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day in early spring.
In absolute terms, the Chinese market for Maine lobster, while valuable, isn’t that large.
“We sell maybe 10 million pounds,” Jacobson said, “but we landed 120 million.”
The demand that does exist – lobster is a popular treat for some at Christmas and New Year’s – and the scarce supply typical of the winter months is keeping prices high, at least in Canada.
Early this week, according to published reports, Canadian lobstermen were getting $8 (Can.) per pound for their catch. Locally, the boat price ranged from $5.50 to $6 per pound, Bauer said, with softshell lobsters representing as much as 20 percent of the small catch.
“That’s one of the problems,” he said. “Shippers have two prices. They don’t want the soft ones.”
On the wholesale side in Canada, the price of tails ranges between $14-$15 (Can.) per pound, and meat price is in the high $20 per pound range.
In the United States, wholesale prices are high, too. According to the online Golbon Seafood Market Report, the wholesale price for lobster tails ranged from $14.50 per pound for 2- or 3-ouncers to as much as $18.25 for an 8- to 10-ounce tail.