It seems like for the past few summers there have been numerous articles written about how inexpensive lobsters are coming off of the boats; about how lobstermen are not going out because prices are too low and how as a customer you should just be inundated with lobster. From reading these articles it seems as if lobsters should be hanging from lamp posts during the summer, intimidating small children and creating dangerous hazards for small dogs. I always run into the problem of guests coming in after reading these articles demanding to see $5 dollar lobsters and claiming that we are ripping them off if the price is any higher. Before jumping to any conclusions about lobster price points, lets take a look at what is going on during the summer that creates such a volatile market for everyone's favorite crustacean.
There are three major areas where lobsters are fished in the Western Atlantic; Coastal U.S., Coastal Canada, and deep water off-shore areas off of these two countries. Lobsters are like crabs in the manner in which they grow. Lobsters go through a molting process where they lose their outer shell by slipping it off, kind of like a wet suit. A similar process occurs during the summer for blue crabs, and it is during this time that soft shell blue crabs are available. Lobsters are no different; once the firm exoskeleton is released, the lobster underneath in soft and very vulnerable. It is during this time that females are able to mate. It takes a while for the lobster's shell to harden and it only makes sense that it takes a little longer for the lobsters to 'fill out' this new shell with tasty, buttery meat. That means if you get a lobster when it's shell is still too soft, then you are going to get a lobster that is not full of meat.
Now, the U.S. and Canada both manage their fisheries by controlling the number of fishing licenses and traps that are made available. However, Canada rotates the areas where hard shell lobsters are found, closing and opening them to maximize the harvest of hardshell lobsters. The U.S. does not rotate and therefore, during the summer especially, the catch consists of many of these shedder lobsters with less meat and an extremely short life span. The softer shell weakens the lobsters and makes them much more vulnerable to transportation stresses. Most of these 'crazy low prices' are attributed to softer shell lobsters that produce less quality and quantity meat.
So when you see these articles, and I bet you will again next summer, remember that great old seafood adage I like to quote so much; you get what you pay for. Because of the glut of these cheaper, soft lobsters, the hardshell price does come down Some typically, I must stress the word some here. But I don't remember ever seeing lobsters hanging out on street corners during the summer and I have certainly never purchased a $3 dollar lobster or a $8 lobster roll. Nor do I see them being given away as door prizes or party favors. Sometimes writers like to exaggerate or omit facts, who would have thought?