The Wealth of Maine_ Lobster

When I first came here, I was shocked!  From the Portland airport all the way to Washington ME, I hardly see any people, only cars on the road and trees on the roadsides.  Not long after that, the winter came.  It was such a cold winter that I saw nothing but snow. 

After a year's adjustment from the "culture-shock", I started to see some goodness here, the lobsters!  The price is even better!  You can buy one for $5 on the road side, then I understood the sign I saw outside of a restaurant saying "Wicked cheap lobster dinner".  It is "wicked" because this price is not even enough to buy lobster shells in China.  I had eaten lobster in some wedding feast before, but never more than a chunk. Due to the high price, normally a table of 8 people share one lobster.

Even though I knew I had found something great for export, the common lobsters one can find in the Chinese market are Australian lobsters.  They are actually should not be called lobsters, but crayfish.  However, for years Chinese people have been consuming this type of "lobster", so they firmly believe these are the real stuff, but the price tag will make ordinary people like you and me starve to death if there's no other food available.  It's roughly $23/lb, more or less.

The differences between these two species not only exist in the price, it has more to do with the looking and habitat of the lobsters.  First, Australian lobsters have no claws.  Second, they get colorful shells.  Third, their tails seem to be a bit of bigger.  Forth, most of them are warm water lobsters.   These differences create some obstacles trying to introduce a new spices to the market.  With much lower price, people think it's not as good as the Australian lobster; however, with the current industry's strength, no one will buy it if you increase the price.

Not only our competition comes from the Southern Hemisphere, we also get competition from our neighbor - Canada.  Canada has exactly the same lobsters as we do, but they have quite different marketing strategies.  I would say they are pretty successful on entering Chinese market, and has established some good customer database and relationships by setting up agents there and advertisement. 

I certainly admire their success, however, one thing I do not agree.  Before Maine even started shipping our lobsters to China, they engraved a lame picture of our lobsters in people's mind.  Basically, they brand their lobsters as "Canadian lobsters", and proclaim that theirs are much better than "American lobsters".  The only reason behind it is we do fish the new shell lobsters, and obviously, the lobster meat yield is not comparable to the hard shell lobsters, even though it's sweeter and more tender; and at the mean time, the mortality is a lot of higher during the shipping.  Canadian companies stop fishing in the summer time, and store the extra hard shell ones they catch in the specific tubes, which will be kept for the off season use.  This way, they have hard shells year around.

It's not right for me to laugh at other people's calamity, but Chinese government banned the Australian lobsters import last year certainly helped North  American lobsters' export.  The desperate lobster importers couldn't get their supply, so they had to find some "substitute",  which explains why all a sudden there were a lot of phone calls to me asking for lobsters.  Unfortunately, Maine's lobster catch is about 40% less this year.  But I think we still can be glad that at least more and more people know our lobster, and accept it as the best.