The lobster market is at a tipping point -- and prices might be about to explode higher

If you want to have a nice lobster dinner you might need to save a few extra bucks, because lobster prices are on the rise.

Reports of fisherman hauling out record amounts of lobster over the past few years make it seem that lobster should be pretty cheap.

But that’s last year. This year the price of lobster is going up thanks to changing water temperatures, experts have told Business Insider.

A lot of the lobsters people buy come from New England — specifically the Gulf of Maine, which produces 94% of America’s lobsters. And for the most part lobsters are only harvested after the lobsters have grown and shed their shells. But changing ocean temperatures over the last few years have messed with when lobsters moult.

Basically, warmer water makes them moult earlier in the year, and back in 2012 New England’s ocean was relatively warm thanks to a “ocean heat wave” that hit much of the East Coast, according to University of Maine research professor Richard Wahle.

This meant that lobsters matured earlier in the year. So when the summer fishing season started lots of lobster were ready for fisherman to catch.

These fisherman caught so many lobster that prices per pound plummeted to the lowest they have been since the 1930s:

Maine lobster price per poundAndy Kiersz/Business InsiderThe price per pound of lobster dipped in 2012 but is going up again.

But now, three years later, price is on the rise again because the harsh winter that recently hit New England dropped ocean temperatures around Maine to the lower end of the lobster comfort zone.

The cold water delays when lobsters moult, so fisherman aren’t pulling nearly as many lobsters in their traps as usual.

Which makes a nasty case of supply and demand for lobster lovers. Until more lobsters moult the supply will remain low, but people will still want their lobster bakes and lobster rolls. The price is already $US1-$US2 more expensive per pound than last year.

It also looks like the supply will remain low for the whole year. In a normal year lobsters moult twice, but because of the first moult coming so late, a second moult might not even happen.

“I predict that it will be a one moult season, based on temperatures,” says University of Maine professor Bob Steneck.

This year Steneck thinks the one and only moult will occur around July or August, not enough time for the lobsters to grow enough for a second moult before winter hits and cooler temperatures slow down their growth.

And even if most of the lobster population participates in one big moult, overall landings for the year will probably still end up lower than usual — an odd turn for a haul that’s been on the upswing since the early 90s:

Maine lobster total catch amountAndy KierszThe total amount of lobsters caught is steadily increasing but due to cold water this year’s catch might be lower than the past few years.

This could be the start of a turning point for the American lobster market.

Wahle is finding fewer lobster larva in the ocean, international demand for lobsters is rising, and lobsters are moving north to Canada as they move north as water temperatures rise.

Better get to cracking those shells while you can still afford it.

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