Lobster wasn’t always a pricey menu item reserved for special occasions. In fact, in Colonial America, it was one of the least desirable foods to eat and commonly served to indentured servants, criminals, and animals. The lack of demand kept prices, and thus catch, quite low until the late 1800s.
Today, lobster is not only seen as a luxury food item but, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, is an over $500m industry with over 130m pounds of the crustacean caught in the Gulf of Maine last year alone. But while the market price we see in restaurants stays fairly consistent, the wholesale price can vary dramatically depending on the time of year based on supply. We chose a handful of offshore lobster fishing vessels based out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire to see if the behavior of these boats were a good proxy for the dramatic price fluctuations.
Diverse fishing coverage of our selected vessels.
New England winters are brutal even for lobsters who become more active as the ocean temperature increases. And as the lobsters become more active, so do the fishing boats. Thus, we wanted to see if there is a correlation between water temperature in the Gulf of Maine and the activity of our selected vessels.
Portsmouth Harbor, NH; Source: NOAA
Sure enough, our selected boats became a lot more active (and thus emit more AIS position messages) as the water temperature rises. According to the Portland Press Herald in mid-July, the Maine lobster season had been off to a bit of a slow start yet prices have remained fairly stable at around $8 per pound. We can see this in the data with very little activity in May and June, despite the temperatures rising above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. July broke that trend as temperatures rose above 60 degrees and our small fleet was out in full force. August, not yet being over, is already almost on par with July in terms of activity and will most likely surpass it.
Given this information, we could assume that the lobster glut so far this year is now over and that the catch has started to flood the market. That means that the wholesale price is likely to drop significantly closer to the typical $4 per pound, based on Maine government data. Unfortunately, we can’t promise that this will have any impact on your summer lobster rolls.