Going out for lobster more costly this spring; Hard winter, low stocks push prices to $10 a pound

This story was published on April 19, 2003 on Page B1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

ELLSWORTH – A lobster feast doesn’t come cheap these days thanks to harsh winter weather and low stocks in lobster pounds.

Retail prices climbed to nearly $10 per pound earlier this month. The price has dropped a bit in the past week or so, but a lobster dinner still is more costly than normal for this time of the year.

One key factor is that lobster pounds didn’t set aside as many lobsters for the winter because of concerns about the weak economy. And the cold winter kept all but the hardiest lobstermen at home.

“The big thing is the economy,” said Herb Hodgkins of the Maine Lobster Pound Owners Association.

Lobster pound owners who have been burned before by excess stock were conservative because of the sluggish economy. Hodgkins estimated that only half as many lobsters were stored in pounds this winter.

The weather didn’t help, either.

Some winter lobstermen made it out of port only once every one or two weeks because of the severe weather, said Pat White, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

The unusually cold weather also meant there was little for the few who did venture out into the deep-water fishing grounds.

When the water temperature in the bottom drops to the mid- to low-30s, the lobsters stop feeding, said Peter McAleney, president of the Maine Import-Export Lobster Dealers Association.

“All of us move a lot slower at that temperature,” White said. “The water is really, really cold.”

There are signs the market is changing. Just two weeks ago, Harbor Fish Market in Portland was selling 1-pound lobsters for $9.99. On Friday, they were selling for $7.99.

Once the water warms, lobstermen will be out in force, bringing about further reductions in price.

Last year, Maine lobstermen set new records for their lobster catch and the value of the catch. Preliminary figures showed that lobstermen hauled in more than 57 million pounds.