Lob­ster prices jump 20%

The cold North­east win­ter de­layed the an­nual harvest. Sales fall in the West.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS BEAT - By Whip Vill ar­real

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.”

Robert F. Bukaty As­so­ci­ated Press

STEVE KINGSTON, owner of the Clam Shack in Ken­neb­unkport, Maine, sorts lob­sters. Maine lob­sters ac­count for about 90% of the U. S. harvest.

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