Blame China for Your Costly Lobster Roll

Blame China for Your Costly Lobster Roll

A lobster sits in a holding bin before having its claws banded onboard the lobster boat "Wild Irish Rose" in the waters off Cape Elizabeth
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
By Millie Dent

Looking for authentic, down-home Maine lobster? Head to China. 

The upsurge in demand for lobster in China this year has caused the price of the succulent marine crustacean to shoot up to record highs in the U.S., according to Bloomberg News. Wholesale prices for lobsters have clawed 32 percent higher over the last year. 

Lacking a lobster industry itself, China used to rely on Australian imports to meet the demand from an expanding middle class that views lobster as a status symbol. But in 2012, as catches off of Western Australia began dwindling and prices of lobster fell in the Gulf of Maine, China changed its main supplier to the U.S. 

Related: McDonald’s Aims for a Classier Crowd with Lobster Rolls 

Lobster exports from the East Coast are the main reason for the hike in fish and seafood exports to China in recent years, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Over the past seven months, about 60,000 live North American lobsters a week make the 7,500-mile trek halfway across the world. The lobsters must still be alive by the time they arrive in China or else they lack appeal, so they’re packed in wet newspapers and Styrofoam coolers for a trip that must be made in 18 hours or less, according to Bloomberg. 

Another reason for the surge in prices was the bitterly cold winter this year, which slowed the catch in Canada and delayed the summer harvest in Maine. 

Holding off on your lobster roll until next summer in the hopes that prices will wane? Don’t count on it. The Chinese middle class is still growing rapidly, and the country already consumes 35 percent of the world’s seafood — a number likely to increase. 

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