Surging demand and abnormal ocean conditions have led to skyrocketing prices for lobster this year — right in prime lobster-eating season.
The price of lobster usually goes down in the summer as lobster fisherman haul in more soft-shelled lobsters. But not this year. Right now, prices remain high and can reach $US10.99 per pound, that’s $US1 to $US2 per pound more than last year.
A harsh winter
This past year’s extremely cold and very long New England winter chilled the ocean’s waters more than usual, keeping the lobster population away from shore and delaying their usual summer moult (which creates the softer-shelled lobster that we usually eat).
Fisherman catch the majority of the year’s lobster during the molting season. Since warmer waters were later in arriving, lobster fisherman aren’t hauling in large catches quite yet, keeping the price higher than it was last year.
As of July 30, however, the “temperatures have recovered and we’re now pretty close to normal,” Andy Pershing of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute told Tech Insider in an email. “All reports suggest that soft-shell lobsters began appearing around the first or second week of July and that landings have increased.”
Which could finally create that summer dip in price, though it’s not likely to be a productive season.
Typically lobsters moult twice a year. This year, however, it looks like there will only be this one moult due to its delay. There might not be enough time for lobsters to grow and moult again before cold winter waters arrive, University of Maine professor Bob Steneck told Tech Insider. This could decrease the overall lobster landings for the year and keep the price high.
Rising demand and moving supply
Additionally, the global demand for American lobster, especially in China, keeps rising. China imported $US90 million worth of lobster in 2014. With a rising demand and a finite supply of lobster, prices are likely to stay higher in general.
Farming isn’t an option to increase supply either. Lobster is hard to raise because they eat a lot and grow slowly, not to mention a very contagious lobster disease that could run rampant in a farm. Because of that, American lobster is not farmed anywhere in the world.
Wild lobster are becoming harder to catch as well. Despite the extremely cold winter New England just experienced, water temperatures continue to trend warmer thanks to climate change. This makes lobsters move further north and into deeper waters to keep cool.
Unfortunately ocean temperatures keep rising dramatically, and it doesn’t just impact lobsters. As a whole, many species of fish off the U.S. coasts are moving further north in search of cooler waters. The black sea bass, for example, can now be found in the Gulf of Maine when they previously ranged from North Carolina to the mid-Atlantic.
And at this point this ocean warming is unstoppable.
To deal with this, some fisherman buy bigger boats and make longer trips to where the lobsters now live. But another option is to develop new technologies to farm these delicious animals. For example, there’s a Maine farming fish in land-based aquaculture farms. Aquaculture is quickly becoming one of Maine’s most valuable fisheries, and expanding as they develop new technologies to grow seaweed and shellfish.
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