Maine's lobster industry is going through bumpy times following a record 2021, when the industry accounted for 82 percent of the state's $891 million (€875 million) in commercial marine value.

This year's dynamics are a stark contrast to last year, MJ Gimbar, a senior buyer with Illinois-based Fortune Fish & Gourmet, told IntraFish.

He said sales of coveted hardshell Maine lobsters are being impacted by inflation, as consumers are turning to cost-saving measures and changing their seafood shopping habits.

Hardshell lobsters typically fetch high retail prices because they can travel longer distances and can be held in holding tanks to sell live at grocery stores.

"There are more of them around and less demand," he said of the hardshell market this year. "Lobster pricing skyrocketed during early February. The prices were outrageous and people have backed off on them."

Prices started falling significantly around May, with wholesale, live 1.25-pound lobster dropping from $12.35 (€12.13) per pound in April to $9.35 (€9.18) per pound, according to CBS news.

Members of the industry told the news site they were also struggling with high bait and fuel prices and costly gear conversions intended to try to protect rare whales.

Gimbar noted the price for hardshells overall has dropped by about 50 percent from its February highs.

While recent seafood industry data show hardshell prices for live, 1.25-pound lobster have picked up slightly to as high as $10.00 (€9.82) per pound, Gimbar said it remains "a hard time" for lobster sales in general.

US retail sales of seafood are basically back to 2019 levels, before COVID sent sales soaring.

August data from market research firm Urner Barry show sales of frozen lobster tale and meat products are also eroding, with a "lack of national account activity" weighing on the market.

It has been a rough summer for Maine lobstermen as well. They are currently dealing with excess inventory and prices paid to boats reduced by over half of what they were a year ago.

"We’re paying at my wharf $3.50 (€3.44) per pound for softshell lobsters," Justin Schnyder, dock manager for the longtime Maine seafood wholesaler, retailer, and seasonal restaurant Beal's Lobster Pier, told IntraFish.

That's 56 percent less than what Schnyder said he paid last year for the fresh product that accounts for 80 percent of Maine's annual lobster landings.

Supply has been high for lobster from July through August, and that paired with COVID demand for premium seafood waning and more American tourists going abroad for vacations "has created a perfect recipe for low boat prices" he explained.

In 2021, the industry was largely boosted as US tourists were eager to visit Maine restaurants to try items such as the iconic lobster roll, according to Schnyder.

But, he said, lobster prices are just returning to more normal levels following those post-pandemic highs.

"In 2020 we were paying around the same ballpark for softshell at $3.90," he said.

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