PORTLAND — Leaders of China’s largest food importer and an investment fund that works with it got a crash course in Maine lobster this morning.

 

The Chinese business delegation is in Maine today at the invitation of independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler. They are looking into the possibility of exporting Maine lobster into China, where most of the lobster is now from Australia and New Zealand.

Ning Gaoning, chairman of COFCO – a state-owned conglomerate that includes China’s largest food importer – said he would be interested in working with frozen products first while building the Maine brand. Any exploration of importing live lobster would come after that.

Guy Cui, a partner in investment fund Hopu, said imports of 35 million pounds would make the effort worth pursuing.

The Maine lobster catch last year was about 75 million pounds. 

Doing business with COFCO could help the state’s lobster industry by raising prices and creating more outlets for the product, said Dane Somers, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council.

The group started off the morning on a lobster boat, where they helped haul traps from Casco Bay. Next was a tour of Portland Shellfish Co., where they got a close-up look at the production facilities and sampled the company’s lobster, shrimp and Jonah crab products. They had a lobster roll lunch at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute with industry representatives.

The rest of the day will be devoted to visiting Jasper Wyman & Sons’ wild blueberry operations in Cherryfield and Deblois and Maine Halibut Farms in Franklin.