Lobster prices jump 20%
The cold Northeast winter delayed the annual harvest. Sales fall in the West.
The days of cheap lobster are over. From Maine to Monterey Park, consumers are shelling out more for the delicacy.
Wholesale prices are up about 20% compared with last year’s, said Chol Pak, president of Los Angelesbased Pacific Fresh Fish Co., which has sold seafood to L. A. restaurants for 33 years.
His company sells Maine American Lobster for $ 8.95 a pound. Sales are down, Pak said, because that’s more than most of his buyers want to pay.
William Cheng, manager at NBC Seafood Restaurant in Monterey Park, said that at $ 16.99 a pound, the restaurant is charging customers $ 1 more a pound than last year.
“We don’t want to raise the price a lot because … there is just too much competition,” he said.
Michael King, purchasing manager of Costa Mesabased King’s Seafood Co., said lobster sales are still strong at its restaurants despite price increases of 10% to 15% for small lobsters and 25% for large lobsters.
One reason for the price increases: An unusually cold winter in the Northeast de- layed the summer harvest in Maine. Fishermen must wait until lobsters shed their shells and reach legal harvesting size.
“At this point in time it is supply and demand,” said Sheila Dassatt, executive director of Downeast Lobster- men’s Assn., explaining the price hike. “The water has not warmed up enough for our lobsters to start moving and shedding [ their shells] just yet.”
Maine lobsters account for about 90% of the U. S. lobster harvest, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Another major driver of lobster prices is increasing demand from other countries, especially China.
According to WiserTrade, a Massachusetts trade research firm, exports to China of lobster harvested in the U. S. increased steadily from $ 74,651 in 2008 to more than $ 41 million in 2014.
“The global market, especially China, is driving a lot of these prices that are going up,” said Logan Kock, a vice president at seafood processor and distributor Santa Monica Seafood.
“In Asia, they really like crustaceans and they have an insatiable demand for it as their economy becomes more gentrified and their middle class grows,” he said.
Demand from China is boosting prices of king crab, snow crab, and lobster, he said.
Kock said that the Spiney California Lobster used to retail for around $ 10 per pound as recently as 2009. Now retailers are paying close to $ 30 a pound, he said.
“It’s ridiculous, said Chloe Dahl, co- owner of the Knuckle and Claw restaurant on Sunset Boulevard.
“If we could raise our prices we would to help curb costs, but we can’t,” she said. “People already think that current costs are too high.”
STEVE KINGSTON, owner of the Clam Shack in Kennebunkport, Maine, sorts lobsters. Maine lobsters account for about 90% of the U. S. harvest.