Irish lobster sector hopes French restaurant reopenings will lift prices
The reopening of French restaurants, which commences on 19 May, will be closely watched by Irish lobster exporters who have been suffering lower prices.
It has been a turbulent year for first sale lobster prices in Ireland said National Inshore Fishermen’s Association Head Alex Crowley. The association counts lobster fishermen among its members.
“Prices slumped after Easter and dropped EUR 6.00 (USD 7.26) per kilogram in one week alone … Such a sudden drop was unprecedented,” Crowley told SeafoodSource. He added the drop “was likely due to reduced demand post Easter and higher levels of landings anticipated, and possibly U.S. product becoming more available.”
The price, which is always seasonal, bottomed out much earlier than expected and much more rapidly than ever before.
“The price bottomed out around EUR 14 (USD 16.9) per kilo mid-April which was pretty poor so early in the season. [The] price doesn’t tend to go that low till late May or early June when landings get heavy,” Crowley said. “Price has risen a little in the last couple of weeks and is now around EUR 16.00 (USD 19.30) but is likely due to low landings. We have had an exceptionally cold spring, and fishing has been fairly slow. It’s created a little competition between exporters here anyway.”
The French market remains key for Irish lobster exporters. In 2019 France bought 570,183 kilograms of Irish lobster worth EUR 9.29 million (USD 11.1 million). That figure in 2020 was down to 546,215 kilograms, worth EUR 7.97 million (USD 9.5 million), suggesting a drop in price as well as volume.
Finnian O’Luasa, head of Bord Bia’s French office, told SeafoodSource the culprit is likely COVID-19.
“COVID is still having a severe impact in France with restaurants being closed again since 30 October, 2020, which is obviously bad news for festive seafood products, especially shellfish and crustaceans,” O’Luasa said.
O’Luasa said that could turn around soon as French restaurants begin to reopen as COVID-19 restrictions ease.
“French restaurants are due to progressively open from the 19th of May, beginning with outside terraces,” O’Luasa said.
O’Luasa believes COVID-19’s impact on French demand means it’s too early to tell if Irish lobster exports are being impacted by duty free access to the European Union market for U.S. lobsters, secured last year.
According to Crowley, prices remain well off those seen in February and March – when they hit a high at around EUR 25.00 (USD 30.35) per kilogram and maintained that until Easter, “which was higher than the previous year, even pre COVID."
"A possible explanation was relatively light landings coupled with reported difficulties U.K. exporters were having at the time in getting product into the E.U. post Brexit,” Crowley said.
Irish member of the E.U. parliament Chris MacManus, meanwhile, thinks tariff-free imports of U.S. lobster may be one of “a number of factors” responsible for declining Irish lobster prices.
“I believe that an impact study to be carried out by the E.U. and Irish authorities would be timely now to assess any damage to the Irish lobster fishing sector and where the introduction of supports could be examined,” he said.
MacManus last year voted against the E.U.-U.S. deal granting U.S. lobster producers tariff-free access to E.U. markets. Previously, U.S. product was subject to an 8 percent tariff, and MacManus said the concern is that the market will be disrupted by an influx of new product.
“I am concerned that the elimination of tariffs would lead to low-priced American lobster flooding the E.U. market, which could have a detrimental effect on our fishing, coastal and island communities,” MacManus said. “This is already a hugely damaging time for Ireland’s fishing communities. COVID-19 and Brexit has left the sector struggling.”
MacManus added he’s aware of the recent price drops.
“Through my engagements with the Irish lobster fishing sector, I am aware that there has been a sharp drop in the price per kilo for catches in just the last short few weeks,” he said.
MacManus has sought government support for Irish lobster producers, in the context of both Brexit and the COVID-19’s damage to demand.
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