PORTLAND, Maine — Lobster prices are rising after months in the tank, but with poor weather conditions and much of their fishing gear pulled from the water, not many fishermen are reaping the rewards.
The price increase is simply a result of supply and demand, said Matt McAleney at New Meadows Lobster, a lobster dealer in Portland.
“The supply is low and demand is better than it should be at this time of year,” McAleney said. “It’s capitalism at its finest.”
The rise in lobster prices is a welcome change from the rock-bottom prices the industry has experienced in recent months. Prices plunged when the global economy took a dive last fall, resulting in a glut of lobsters on the market and bargains for lobster lovers.
Lobstermen two weeks ago were getting $2.25 to $2.80 a pound for their catch, said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. The “boat price” nudged up last week, and fishermen this week are receiving $4 to $5.40 a pound, she said.
The rise is a step in the right direction for fishermen who have struggled to make ends meet with prices so low, she said. At the same time, not many fishermen are benefiting; most have pulled their traps for the season, while those who are still working have been hampered by poor weather that has keep them on shore for the most part.
“There are really just a few people left to enjoy these prices,” McCarron said.
While lobstermen are getting paid more, consumers are paying more.
When prices plunged last fall, many seafood shops and supermarkets sold small lobsters for $3.99 a pound or even lower in some cases. Those prices held steady until recently, but are now in the $5.49-$7.99 range for the smallest lobsters, and more for larger ones, at Portland-area retailers.
“They went way down and have come back to where they normally are this time of year,” said Jocelyn O’Keefe at Three Sons Lobster & Fish, a store on Portland’s waterfront. Three Sons on Wednesday was selling small soft-shell lobsters for $5.49 a pound and hard-shells — which have more meat — for $6.49.
The higher prices come after a strong holiday season. At Three Sons Lobster & Fish, holiday sales were triple what they were a year ago, in part due to the low prices, O’Keefe said.
Winter is the time when lobster prices typically climb to their highest levels of the year as supply dwindles. But the past year has been anything but typical, and lobstermen are holding their breath about what’s to come, McCarron said.
“Boat prices” are still lower than they were last year at this time, she said, and lobstermen continue to struggle amid fears that prices could be low this coming year if the economy doesn’t improve.
“Many lobstermen who have been fishing (these past months) have been saying they’re not making any money but they’re covering costs and paying a few bills, which is better than not paying bills,” McCarron said.
Lobstermen in Canada have also seen a price spike for their catches.
Fishermen had been receiving $3.25 a pound from lobster buyers since the season opened off lobster-rich southwestern Nova Scotia in late November, but the price rose to $6.25 a pound on Monday, the Canadian Press reported.
But some Nova Scotia lobstermen said the price increase came at a time when many have tied up their boats until spring.