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China's Newfound Love for North American Lobster Is Driving Up Prices at Home

Looks like it’s time to hit up Beijing for an honest taste of down-home Maine. Now if only we could get some of that good ol’ American gai lan.

by Alex Swerdloff
Aug 4 2015, 10:00pm

Photo via Flickr user interncontinentalhongkong

Lobster: the overpriced and overhyped shelf-grabber of the sea. The crimson bottom feeder may once have been the food of the poor, but epicurean wannabes have been buying it hand over butter-crusted fist for the past hundred years or so.

If you've noticed that lobster prices are higher this year, you may be blaming the weird weather we've had of late. True, the harsh winter of 2015 slowed the catch in Canada and delayed the summer harvest in Maine.

READ: Maine Fisherman Want You to Consider the Lesser-Loved Lobsters

But the greater reason for escalating lobster prices this summer? Blame the Chinese. Or thank them, if you're a fisherman.

Wholesale prices for lobster are up 32 percent from a year ago, and the reason, according to a report in Bloomberg Business, is that China has developed a strong fondness for Canadian and American lobster.

This all started a few years ago when prices for lobster had hit an extreme low—a glut of lobster was flooding the market, and distributors had to get creative. They began to explore the Chinese market and were met with a big happy-to-have-you. US exports of lobster to China rose to 18.9 million pounds last year, according to US Department of Agriculture data.

And now, every Sunday, about 60,000 live lobsters are put on a Korean Air Lines cargo plane and sent to Shanghai from Halifax, Nova Scotia. The lobsters have to arrive alive, so the trip must be made in 48 hours or less.

So, why are lobsters so popular in China? Well, it makes sense if you think about it. In the increasingly Westernized nation, American lobster is seen as a status symbol. Plus, their distinctive red coloring is considered to be lucky.

Previously, China had sourced its lobsters from Australia, but the catch began shrinking off Western Australia in recent years. Additionally, Australia's Southern rock lobsters don't have the big, juicy claws that the Chinese prize.

If you're hoping that lobster prices will wane in the future—perhaps we'll have a warmer winter this year—dream on: there's no reason to believe Chinese demand for our crustaceous friends will slow down. The Chinese middle class may reach 1 billion people by 2030, and that's a lot of lobster eaters. And according to the Bloomberg report, the country already consumes 35 percent of the world's seafood, a number that is on the rise.

Looks like it's time to hit up Beijing for an honest taste of down-home Maine. Now if only we could get some of that good ol' American gai lan.

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Munchies
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seafood
lobster
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US Department of Agriculture
food exports
Southern rock lobsters
wholesale prices