Over the past few years lobster prices in Maine have tumbled. Eight years ago the price paid to fishermen was around $4.60 per pound. Today it’s around $2.20. The problem is one of booming lobster populations and the dominance of lobster in catches. Last year’s haul was double that of a decade ago and, in some waters, six times higher.
You would think that larger catches would be good news for fishermen. But prices now are so low that they barely cover variable costs. Individual fishermen fish harder and longer to bring in even bigger catches to make up for the lower price. This, of course, compounds the problem and pushes the price even lower.
So what are the answers for the fishermen of Maine? One solution is to diversify their catch, but with lobster so plentiful and other fish stocks depleted, this is not easy.
Another solution is to cooperate. The Reuters article below quotes John Jordan, a lobsterman and president of Calendar Islands Maine Lobster Co.:
‘If you had an industry that actually cooperated, you wouldn’t be bringing in more product if you couldn’t sell what you already had, right?’
Restricting the catch would require lobster distributors to cooperate and set quotas for what the fishermen would be permitted to sell. But with over 5000 fishermen, this is not easy.
Another solution is to expand the market. One way is for the distributors or other agencies to market lobster and lobster products more aggressively. For example, this year the State of Maine has established a $2 million marketing collaborative. Another solution is to find new markets.
Jordan’s company and others are frantically seeking new ways to sneak lobster into unexpected corners of the food market, from gazpacho to puff pastries and quiche.
In the meantime, for consumers the question is whether the low prices paid to the fishermen of Maine will feed through into low prices in the fishmonger, supermarket and restaurant. So far that does not seem to be happening, as the final two articles below explain.
US lobster fishermen’s ‘problem of plenty’ BBC News, Jonny Dymond (5/10/13)
Maine lobstermen in a pinch over low prices, record catch: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 Aljazeera America, Adam May (11/10/13)
Something fishy is going on in the nation’s lobster capital CNBC, Heesun Wee (1/9/13)
Booming lobster population pinches profits for Maine’s fishery Reuters, Dave Sherwood (25/8/13)
Lobster’s worth shelling out for The Observer,
Rachel Cooke (21/9/13)
Clawback The New Yorker, James Surowiecki (26/8/13)
Why The Glut Of Cheap Lobster Won’t Lower Price Of Lobster Rolls Gothamist, John Del Signore (20/7/12)
- Why have lobster prices paid to fishermen fallen? Illustrate your argument with a demand and supply diagram
- What has determined the size of the fall in prices? What is the relevance of price elasticity of demand and price elasticity of supply to your answer?
- How is the fallacy of composition relevant to the effects on profits of an increase in the catch by (a) just one fisherman and (b) all fishermen? What incentive does this create for individual fishermen in a competitive market?
- What can lobster fishermen do to restore profit margins through collaborative action?
- In what ways is there a conflict between economics and ecology in the lobster fishing industry?
- How does stored lobster affect (a) the price elasticity of supply and (b) the price volatility of lobster?
- How could cooperation between lobster fishermen and lobster processors and distributors benefit all those involved in the cooperation?
- Why may restaurants choose to maintain high prices for lobster dishes for ‘psychological reasons’? Are there any other reasons?