Wholesale prices for lobster caught in Maine and Canada have plummeted to $2.30 a pound, about the same price commanded 25 years ago, as the annual catch grows. Most consumers, however, aren’t seeing the savings because restaurant menu prices largely haven’t dropped.
In Maine, the industry is trying to jumpstart the market, voting to increase fees to promote lobster worldwide. The increased fee charged to lobstermen is expected to raise $2.2 million for promotional efforts next year. The industry, however, is looking beyond marketing and promotions and eyeing developments in the lobster cold chain as well.
Pacific American Fish, whose brands include Oceankist, Pacific Surf and PAFCO, is studying the feasibility of shipping live lobster to Asia by ocean using containers designed to carry live flounder, halibut and other fish from South Korea to the U.S.
Another ocean service already provides direct transportation to European markets. Icelandic carrier Eimskip is calling at the Port of Portland, Maine, after moving its service and operations from the Port of Norfolk, Va. The shift to Portland shaves five days off scheduled voyages, the carrier said.
The change also gives the Maine lobster industry a way to get processed lobster to Europe. Previous attempts to get scheduled ocean service at Portland involved feeder service to other ports and required shipments to be transloaded with other vessels, increasing the transit time. Eimskip is offering Maine customers service that goes on to Europe from Iceland.
Some in the industry are trying to promote a separate market niche: high-quality frozen lobster.
Central Maine Cold Storage broke ground in August on a $1 million cold-storage facility in Bucksport, Maine, that will have a blast freezer. The central idea behind the facility is to freeze lobster, scallops and shrimp quickly to maintain optimum flavor.
If done correctly, freezing lobster will result in a high-quality product that can be exported easily worldwide, according to researchers at the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute. Having a large cold-storage facility handy to production areas also will allow the industry to store the product for longer periods and wait for better prices, rather than dumping a catch on the market all at once.