Maine's seafood catch may be at a seven-year high -- in large part due to record numbers of lobster -- but it doesn't mean prices are down.
Spiros Tourkakis, East Coast Seafood executive vice-president and co-owner, told IntraFish the reason for the unusually high abundance of lobster is twofold: conservation measures for tossing smaller lobsters back into the ocean have increased, while lobster predators have left the waters.
"The fishermen are telling me they're finding a lot of lobsters that they have to put back," he said, adding that many fishermen are seeing lobsters that do not meet the 3.25-inch minimum body size the state of Maine requires. "In addition, a lot of the predators of the lobsters have been overfished, particularly in the North Atlantic -- cod, pollock, haddock."
Whatever the cause, Tourkakis said despite a 2011 total Maine lobster catch that was three times as much as 20 years ago, prices "are actually 10 percent higher than last year."
East Coast Seafood is paying about $5.50 (€4.13) per pound for lobster, which he said is on the higher end of the normal scale.
The higher raw material costs, of course, are passed on to retailers and restaurants, Jeremy McLachlan told IntraFish.
McLachlan, the corporate chef for the successful trio of Salty's restaurants in the Pacific Northwest, said the price of lobster has skyrocketed.
"Lobster is one of those things we love to have on our menu but the pricing has gone up significantly," he said.
McLachlan is now charging about $40 (€30) per pound at his restaurants, which he admits is "on the high end" of his usual price scale. To combat the high prices, Salty's also features Maine lobster tail, which is a 5-to 7-ounce tail for around $30 (€22.5).
"This is a frozen product, so the price doesn't fluctuate as much," McLachlan said.
The chef said his team has also started "pressurizing" the lobster claw and arms and "using the meat in a lot of our lobster salads that we do."
Tourkakis, too, has seen much of the lobster go into the "processing sector."
"A lot of the product has to go into tails or to lobster meat," he said. "There are lobster promotions or they go into processing. Unfortunately, you cannot always pay so much."