Strong demand pushes the price of a Maine lobster roll up to $ 34 apiece

Maine seafood prices are experiencing a post-pandemic rise that could persist into the future, positive potential for the market dislocations COVID-19 has brought to the industry.

Headlines made headlines a month ago when Wiscasset’s iconic seafood shack, Red’s Eats, opened for the season with no lobster on hand. Today there is lobster to eat – but save your napkin: a lobster roll there costs $ 34 this week.

And the story is the same further off the beaten track.

Gary Blackman Sr. and his wife have run Karen’s Hideaway Lobster House in Boothbay for two decades.

“We experience this every year,” Blackman said. “But this year has been a crazy year.”

Lobster rolls cost $ 28 this week, reflecting dock prices for hardshells that have bounced around $ 6 to $ 12 a pound for weeks – and that’s when the proceeds come.

“I mean the price is up, but the boys are not catching anything. But that’s the kind of year it’s been. Why? Nobody has an answer, ”Blackman said. “The water might be too cold, the weather might be crazy. I hope that in a week or two things will change. “

Lobster landings don’t usually take off until Memorial Day, when more boats are in the water and the lobster becomes more active, shedding old shells.

But industry experts have said that today’s skyrocketing prices are not just attributable to the capture, but also to how consumers changed their shopping habits during the pandemic.

“We’re seeing a very high demand for lobster, for all seafood. And that’s true not only here in Maine, but across the country,” said Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobsters Dealers Association.

She said when lockdowns shut down much of the restaurant industry last year, seafood sales plummeted.

But as the pandemic progressed, cookbooks began to come out and home chefs began to experiment.

“Consumers have had the time to handle seafood at home in a way they’ve never had before,” Tselikis said. “So people would buy not only lobster but other seafood from their supermarkets or from local fishmongers or directly from fishermen and they would try things.”

Dealers were finally able to match this new trend, Tselikis said. Repackaging and re-routing of inventory that had been planned for the restaurant industry to retail outlets. Over time, with a few lower than normal landings, an overabundance of stocks has subsided and is now depleted.

“The amount of frozen products and stocks are low, and the amount of long-term storage for live lobster is also low, compared to previous years,” Tselikis said. “And our customers are looking for it. There is a really strong demand in the market. People are emerging from the pandemic, they are looking for a cure. “

With the restaurants reopening, Tselikis notes that current consumer prices for seafood are up 19% from last year. It’s more than any other food product, and it can be a sign that home cooks and restaurants together are pushing demand to new levels.

And it seems consumers may feel more comfortable with seafood that might be less familiar at home than, say, a nice frozen lobster tail: live oysters or Maine mussels. , for example.

“We have seen, nationally, a 25-35% increase in national sales of Maine aquaculture products,” said Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association.

He said a state-sponsored advertising campaign helped stabilize Maine seafood sales during the worst ups and downs of the pandemic.

Oyster farmers have had a particularly difficult time, he said. Oysters are notoriously difficult to sell for home consumption – as their shells can appear difficult to open. But Belle said producers have made inroads, using social media to post DIY oyster shelling videos.

“If you go to Instagram or YouTube or any of those things, you’ll see hundreds of videos on how to shell an oyster,” Belle said. “And they have become extremely popular.”

Retail prices of oysters have returned to pre-pandemic levels. Bell said it was too early to say whether the pandemic had created a permanent change in consumption patterns. But he predicts an upcoming seafood cookbook boom.

For everyone in the industry, balancing demand, price, cost and inventory is a constant challenge. Returning to Karen’s Hideaway in Boothbay, Gary Blackman Sr. said high prices hurt his usual sales levels in May.

But he’s not at all worried about catching lobster this summer.

“I know in a few weeks I said they would be poking my nose out, and I know it,” Blackman said. “And then I’m going to growl because there are too many of them.”

This article appears as part of a media partnership with Maine public.

Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested that 80% of seafood purchases in the United States were made outside the home.


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