Saturday, May 25, 2013
PORTLAND — Celebrity Cruises will buy nearly 2 tons of lobster for its passengers this fall, boosting demand at a time when a glut of lobsters has driven prices to a 30-year low.
The Celebrity Summit will visit Portland twice in September and Bar Harbor once in October.
Freshly caught lobsters sit in a crate at Harbor Fish Market. An unusual combination of factors has made this a good year for catching lobsters but not a good one for selling them.
Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer
But it's unclear whether the sale will go to a Maine dealer.
Even if it does, the purchase won't put much of a dent in the lobster supply. The 3,800 pounds the cruise line will buy is roughly equivalent to a day's catch from two boats, say dealers.
A spokeswoman for Celebrity, Tavia Robb, said Wednesday that the cruise line is still negotiating with wholesalers and hasn't yet chosen one. She said one potential supplier is Steve Connolly Seafood Co. of Boston.
Steve Connolly Jr., the company's president and general manager, said Wednesday that he wasn't aware of any plans to provide lobsters to Celebrity Cruises.
If Celebrity Cruises does decide to buy from a Boston company, it still could get Maine lobster, said Dane Somers, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council.
More than 80 percent of all lobster comes from Maine, and much of it goes to Boston for distribution, he said. Maine, the nation's largest lobster producer, landed 105 million pounds last year.
Connolly said he generally buys lobster from fishermen in Gloucester, Mass., who are probably getting some of their catch off the Maine coast.
Robb said the cruise line will buy a total of 3,800 pounds of live lobster when the ship Summit Celebrity visits Portland on Sept. 9 and Sept. 24, and Bar Harbor on Oct. 8.
This will be the second time Celebrity will buy live lobster for its passengers, a choice that's uncommon in the industry. Last year, the cruise line bought 400 pounds of lobster from Ready Seafood Co. of Portland.
Maine lobstermen are getting as little as $2 a pound for their catch this summer.
Earlier this month, lobstermen in Canada protested, saying cheap Maine lobsters were flooding processing plants there and driving down the prices that New Brunswick fishermen could get for their catch.
To draw attention to the glut and increase sales, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, sent letters to 10 cruise ship companies encouraging them to buy Maine lobster during port calls.
Celebrity Cruises is the first company to respond. At least one other company has expressed interest, said Willy Ritch, Pingree's spokesman.
Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.
John Suley, director of culinary operations for Celebrity Cruises, said the cruise line began the process of buying live lobster before it got Pingree's letter.
"We focus on giving guests the local experience, and Maine is known for Maine lobsters," he said. "To be able to source fresh lobsters is an amazing experience for our guests."
It is not unheard of for cruise lines to buy live lobsters, but it's still relatively rare because of the logistics of storing and serving fresh seafood.
It's more common for cruise ships -- including Celebrity ships -- to serve frozen lobster tails, said John Sackton, editor and publisher of Seafood.com, a website that covers the seafood industry.
"I do think it's unusual for them to be buying live lobsters," he said. "If this can be expanded, all the better."
Warren Pettegrow, a lobster buyer whose family owns Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound in Hancock County, agrees.
The Trenton-based business began selling live lobsters this month to Holland America cruise ships that visit Bar Harbor. The company has had two orders, each for 1,300 pounds of lobster.
Lobster pound employees pulled their boat alongside the cruise ship to deliver the lobsters directly.
"To come to the Maine coast and indulge in lobster from the waters you're sailing in, I think that's a pretty good experience," Pettegrow said.
He said it may take a few years to develop cruise ships as a strong market for fresh Maine lobsters.
"It's something they're just testing the waters with," he said. "All these orders are a step in the right direction. Every little bit definitely helps."
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: