Lobster: From luxury to everyday meal
Perceptions about lobster have often shifted over time. In 16th Century Europe, for example, the Hapsburg court in Vienna and Prague revered lobster as an exotic status symbol of the very rich, writes Elisabeth Townsend in “Lobster: A Global History.” But New England colonists only valued the plentiful lobster as a protein, using it as fertilizer, food for pigs, servants and slaves, and a desperate and unpleasant measure against starvation.
Today, lobster’s image is again evolving. In Asia, a growing middle class is clamoring for imported lobster as one of the perks of newly created wealth. Domestically, a temporary dip in prices and a surge of product innovations has made it a more accessible product. Those consumers who aren’t up for the challenge of boiling a live lobster may bring it home as part of a frozen macaroni and cheese dish that can be easily popped into the microwave.
For those catching and processing the American lobster (Homarus americanus), reaching new markets has been a necessary means to survival. Record-breaking catches in Maine and Canada — reaching a combined haul of a quarter million pounds in 2010 — along with a drop in demand for luxury products during the recession drove prices down, which has been especially tough for lobstermen also struggling to pay skyrocketing fuel and bait costs. Maine lobsters, for example, dropped down to a $2.25 to $2.50 dock price in the fall of 2008.
“I personally think that we are not out of the woods yet as far as the economy,” says Michael Tourkistas, president of East Coast Seafood in Lynn, Mass. “What is interesting and we kind of anticipated is that given the lower prices, we opened new markets. Our product was available to people with a lower price point.”
While prices are climbing back to normal levels, with New England f.o.b. prices fetching around $6 in May, Tourkistas, whose company has a lobster and fresh seafood facility on Deer Island in New Brunswick, Canada, points out that those on the Canadian side of the industry are also hurt by a weak U.S. dollar.
“We are facing a 9 to 10 percent exchange difference between the Canadian and U.S. dollar,” says Tourkistas. “That is a problem for the industry because, as you can imagine, the costs from the boat to the plant have continued to increase due to different reasons but primarily the increase in fuel prices.”
Click here to read the rest of the feature on lobster, which was written by SeaFood Business Assistant Editor Melissa Wood and appeared in the magazine’s June issue.