PORTLAND — Prices for Maine's most beloved export are much higher than typical right now because of high demand and the possibility that those who catch lobsters are having a slower season.
Maine lobsters usually become less expensive over the course of the summer because of the increase in catch off the state's coast. But this year, wholesale prices that typically fall to the $8 or $9 per pound range never fell below $10.50. And they've soared even higher in early fall, eclipsing recent records and causing consumers to fork over more money at the seafood counter.
Members of the industry said interest in lobster from food processing companies and international buyers is driving heavy demand for the crustaceans. Meanwhile, the fishing season might be slightly off the pace of recent years, so supply is stretched thin, they said.
“The season has been maybe a little bit below average, but the price has been pretty decent, so I think we're going to be OK,” said Kristan Porter, a lobster fisherman and president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association.
America's lobster industry, based mostly in Maine, goes through pricing ebbs and flows over the course of a typical year. Lobsters are typically heavily fished in summer, when they shed their shells and many reach legal size.
This year, the wholesale price is staying high in the early fall, as the average price for September was $11.52, according to business publisher Urner Barry. That was the second-highest price for any month over the past five years, and the highest for a peak-season month.
Consumers are paying in the $15 per pound range — about a third more than a year ago, and twice the price from some previous summers and early falls.
“It's a very unusual year — and it's far enough into the fall that I don't see that turning around,” said John Sackton, an industry analyst and founder of SeafoodNews.com. “What lobster dealers say is they can't get enough to supply their overseas customers.”
While the volume of lobster catch might be slightly off recent years' pace, Maine fishermen are in the midst of an unprecedentedly productive multiyear run. Fishermen have brought more than 96 million pounds of lobster to Maine docks for 11 straight years after never coming close to that figure according to start records that go back to the 1880s.
And there's always the possibility fishermen will catch a lot of lobsters in the autumn, said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the lobster fishing group.
“Fall is certainly a significant time for lobster landings, and so far our lobstermen seem to be pretty happy with this season,” McCarron said.