Lower prices and the American consumer's desire for discounts could mean US lobster sales are headed for a rebound heading into the year-end holidays.

Though MJ Gimbar, a senior buyer with Illinois-based Fortune Fish & Gourmet, said inventories have leveled out from highs seen from July through September of 2022, bringing some stability to prices and supply.

That seems to be translating into brisk businesses, and strong demand.

"We have a lot of requests for quotes for the holidays already, especially New Year's Eve," Gimbar told IntraFish. "Our focus will be negotiating quantities and market prices to supply the large orders and an increase in regular orders."

The US holidays are traditionally a time when consumers are willing to splurge on lobster, but this year has proven challenging as consumers are trading down when it comes to seafood.

However, US consumers seem on track to spend once again during the holidays, even as major companies conduct layoffs and prepare for a recession. A record number of Americans shopped online and in stores from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, releasing a secondary store of pent-up demand for physical good and in-person experiences, reported Axios.

Prices have remained dramatically lower for lobster this year compared to 2021 and have continued to fall into December, with COVID lockdowns in China also contributing to price decreases as seafood products faces challenges getting into the country, Gimbar confirmed.

Fortune sources its lobster primarily from Maine and focuses on selling hard shell lobsters in December, which are used for both US foodservice and retail.

US hardshell prices for live, 1.25-pound lobster have dropped by 15 percent since August to between $8.00 (€7.60) and $8.50 (€8.08) per pound.

Letting the customer decide

Colorado-based Seattle Fish Company's Chief Operating Officer and Chief Sustainability Officer Hamish Walker also confirmed with IntraFish that prices for hardshells have dropped heading into the holidays, but that demand has remained strong among the company's foodservice and retail customers.

Walker has not seen a decrease in demand for Maine lobster, despite retailers such as Whole Food stating in November it made a decision to pause purchasing of the shellfish until it regains its Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification or is removed from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch red list.

While Seattle Fish supports third-party ratings and accreditations, it provides information about sustainability issues to customers so that they can make their own decisions, Walker said.

"We want to reflect what they're saying in our scoring, but at the same time, we also value the fisherfolk in Maine and the importance of Maine lobster to the economy and to their families," he said.

Geoff Irvine, the executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, told IntraFish that while the US market has come down from its post-pandemic lobster-buying spree of 2021, Canada's lobster industry remains optimistic things can still pick back up into the December holidays.

Prices for lobster are also expected to drop in the country, reported local news site SaltWire, with wharf prices expected to decrease around 46 percent from last year's opening day to between CAD 6.00 ($4.47/€4.25) and CAD 6.25 ($4.65/€4.42) per pound at Canada's Lobster Fishing Area 34, which is part of the largest lobster fishery in country.

The opening day for lobster fishing areas (LFA) 33 and 34 in southwestern Nova Scotia was delayed this year due to high winds. LFA 33 opened Nov. 28, but the opening day for LFA 34 was delayed for a week until Monday due to poor weather conditions.

Irvine said having a timely opening day for the two fishing areas is important because December is a key month for harvesters when it comes to lobster fishing, before winter weather sets in and they become more challenging to trap.

"It does tend to set expectations," he said. "It's a determining factor for what happens in the next 3-4 months."

Combined, the two LFAs make up the largest commercial lobster fishing region in Canada, accounting for 31 percent of the total value of Canada's lobster catch in 2021.

"These big seasons set the tone if a retailer is going to do a feature over the holidays," he said.

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