If all the strife and sadness of summer 2020 has you down (we’re not going to sugarcoat it, this year is tough), let a lobster dinner lift your spirits. Sure, just the thought of the bright red crustacean on a silver platter evokes images of hoity-toity fine dining, but eating lobster is about as rustic as it gets and in an era when dining out has a completely different connotation, it’s time to treat yourself at home.
Why Is Lobster So Cheap Right Now?
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, more lobster is available for consumers to purchase directly, instead of from third parties, like restaurants and caterers. As of October 2019, Americans were dining out more than ever before. But cue an unprecedented pandemic, and grocery sales have soared, with many restaurants closed and more Americans forced to be frugal about our daily food choices. That frugality, in fact, can be beneficial for lobster lovers.
“Most seafood is consumed away from home, on cruise ships and at restaurants,” explains Marianne LaCroix, executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. With cruise ships docked for the foreseeable future, that’s a lot of seafood that needs to be redistributed to our current culinary streams: Supermarkets and online grocery.
Lobster Supply and Demand
The price of lobster fluctuates with supply and demand. “The price of lobster [per pound] fluctuates all the time,” LaCroix says. Lobsters are caught on day boats from individual fishermen, each one operating as their own small business—over 4,000 of them exist in Maine. While the catch varies from year to year, the warmer months often result in the high quantities, when lobsters shed their soft shells and are more active in the warmer water.
Each day individuals go out to lobster is an investment, however. They need to pay the crew and cover operating costs, and inclement weather or poor sales may make a full-time lobsterman choose not to set traps one day. While lobster prices had been dropping since 2018 already due to tariffs from China, this summer brings record low prices: less than $6 per pound for a product that’s usually $9 per pound, essentially reducing lobstermen’s salaries by one-third or more.
“The wholesale sector is basically gone,” says Mark Murrell, CEO and founder of direct-to-consumer lobster source GetMaineLobster.com. While the shift in business is tough for folks in the industry, that benefits people at home, unwilling to risk crowded supermarkets or reallocating their grocery budgets to online food purchases. “Demand is low, supply is high, every day is new and unique," he adds.
Buying Lobster Online
And not all lobsters need to be eaten whole, or cooked at home from their live state. LaCroix is working to educate people on what types of lobster products they can cook with, like pre-cooked lobster meat, frozen lobster tails, live lobsters, lobster roll kits, and fresh meat (which get shipped overnight). Even in Maine, LaCroix assures, locals buy frozen lobster meat, which is flash frozen in 20 minutes to preserve flavor and texture, nothing like the oft-maligned frozen seafood of decades past.
Eating lobster directly supports small businesses. “This is a great time to eat lobster,” LaCroix says. “Every time you eat a lobster, you’re helping an independent fisherman in Maine.” If you prefer the sweeter flavor of Florida lobster tail, look to Peter’s Florida Seafood.
While many lobstermen have yet to feel the full effects of the pandemic as prime season is just beginning, they’re also counting on Americans to lobster it up this summer. “This summer in particular we hope that people will look at lobster as a delicious and nutritious food source,” says Maine lobsterman Frank Gotwals. “Our traditional markets are going to be affected by the pandemic, so we hope people will support the lobstermen and eat more lobster at home.”
Cooking Lobster at Home
If you want to try your hand at cooking lobster at home this summer, check out our guide to cooking live lobster at home and step-by-step instructions for the best method of eating a lobster. Ambitious lobster cooks can follow our guide to making lobster rolls at home or grill these impressive lobster tails with cilantro butter.