SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Business

July 25, 2012

Sweet price for consumers, hard time for local lobstermen

MARBLEHEAD — When he is not surveying boats for sale, Capt. Jay Michaud considers the cockpit of his 42-foot lobster boat, named International Harvester, his office. He has been fishing lobsters for 40 years. This year, Michaud and other lobstermen have seen the price for lobsters plunge.

According to Bill Adler, the Massachusetts Lobstermen Association’s executive director, the “boat price” lobstermen are fetching is $2.75 a pound, when it should be $4 a pound to break even on the cost of bait, fuel, labor and traps.

Michaud, who said he needs to catch at least 100 pounds of lobster to break even, spoke about the factors that are driving the price this season.

Is the problem an oversupply — that the warm weather brought the lobsters out early?

Purely a temporary situation. These things happen. It’s an adjustment. It would probably never have gone as low as it has gone if it weren’t for the fact that the nation happens to be in a recession still.

Do you think it’s a perception that people think lobster is a pricey meal, but they may not realize prices are reasonable?

Lobsters are a celebration meal. When you ask someone to marry you, you buy her a lobster dinner. When you have a birthday, you celebrate with a clambake. ... You can live on hamburg, but you celebrate on lobster.

Is there an unusual circumstance this year?

What happened was ... we had a rather mild winter, the water temperatures did not go down as low as they normally do, and the temperature recovery was a lot quicker than it normally is in a regular year. Lobsters’ movements are regulated by temperature. When we had the warmer waters, nature told the lobsters that: “Hey, it’s time to shed.” ... The lobsters in Maine and here in Massachusetts, they shed about six weeks early, and there was just a mass of them that came out at the same time, and they were all paper-thin lobsters, which can’t be shipped. They are a much sweeter lobster ... but they don’t ship well, and they don’t hold in the lobster holding systems very well because they are very fragile.

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