Wednesday, May 22, 2013
PORTLAND — Maine's lobster catch has eased from the record hauls seen in June and July, but dock prices paid to lobstermen haven't changed much as supply fell off.
This file photo shows lobsters at The Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland. The lobster catch in Maine has dropped off, but prices are still much lower than normal.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer
"The price went up last week for Labor Day, but dealers dropped the price today as tourists left," said David Cousens, president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association. "Prices are off a dime today. And we're still 50 cents cheaper than a year ago."
Lobstermen say that although they are bringing in fewer lobsters over the past few weeks, the season should still compare well with last year's record catch of 100 million pounds, which was worth $330 million at last year's wholesale prices.
"There's a finite number of lobsters. The catch is dropping, but only somewhat. It's gone from crazy to pretty good," said Robert Bayer, executive director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine.
Prices paid to lobstermen in the Portland area were about $2.85 a pound Tuesday, roughly what they were before the holiday-weekend increase.
That was better than the $2 to $2.50 a pound lobstermen were getting in June and July, but well below the average $3.31 per pound they were paid last year at this time.
This year's lobster catch was marked by an earlier-than-normal shedding season, which led to a glut of soft-shell lobster being caught in June and July, about a month earlier than normal.
Dock prices jumped a bit ahead of the Labor Day holiday to about $2.95 a pound, but that lasted only a few days, lobstermen said. Retail prices at Hannaford supermarkets stayed steady at $5.99 a pound for 1-pound to pound-and-a-quarter lobsters.
Usually lobstermen don't see a price jump for Labor Day because there is plenty of supply, which weighs down prices, Bayer said. Prices vary from dock to dock and market to market, so generalizations about price are difficult to make.
Sea Hag Seafood recently opened in Tenants Harbor, becoming the fourth-largest processor in the state. It can process up to 4.8 million pounds of lobster a year. Having another local buyer for lobster could affect the market, Bayer said.
"It's a matter of supply and demand," Bayer said. "If the supply shrinks and there's another processor that's come online, there's more demand."
But although prices can plunge during a supply glut, they don't tend to rise as quickly when demand increases, lobstermen said.
John Ready, co-owner of Ready Seafood in Portland, said supply has decreased over the past week, but prices haven't changed dramatically. He said $2.85 a pound sounded about right for the Portland area.
"Prices have come up somewhat over the past month," said Jeff Putnam, a lobsterman who fishes off Chebeague Island. "Supply in Casco Bay has been downhill. It's been a slow catch for the past month."
The shrinking catch -- and lack of a commensurate rise in the price -- makes it difficult for fishermen to cover the daily cost for fuel and sternmen, lobstermen said.
"Everyone is struggling to catch enough poundage," said Warren Pettegrow of the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound in Bar Harbor. "The catch is marginal. It's slowed down. There's not much catch -- it's back to normal."
Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: