GLOBAL - In 2015, global lobster landings reached 160,000 tonnes. Over half of these are comprised of American lobster (Homarus americanus), which dominate the world market, reports FAO Globefish.
In terms of American lobster, the industry in Maine is worried about a possible early shedding season this year. When this occurred in 2012, the lobsters began shedding their hard shells to grow new ones at the beginning of the season in June with this lasting until autumn.
As a result, prices dropped dramatically. Early shedding is thought to be a result of warmer water, and there are signs this year that water temperatures have been rising in the spring. Also with early shedding, catches go up, thus the lobster season may peak early and affect prices negatively.
In 2015, global trade of lobsters declined slightly compared with 2014. Total imports went from 193,300 tonnes in 2014 to 190,000 tonnes in 2015. The largest importer was the USA, with imports increasing. Canada registered a slight decline in imports, while the third largest importer, China, increased its import volume by 3.3 per cent. Other large importers include Italy, France and Spain.
While US imports of lobster increased in 2015, US exports declined by 4.3 per cent. About 55 per cent of US exports go north across the border to Canada, but in 2015 this trade declined by 3.5 per cent. US exports to the EU also declined, by 10 per cent. Exports to China, on the other hand, increased by 5.4 per cent.
EU lobster imports declined very slightly in 2015, from 42,200 tonnes in 2014 to 41,900 tonnes in 2015 (-0.7 per cent). While the USA shipped slightly less to the EU, Canada shipped slightly more.
The EU market for American lobster has been stagnant for some years, with the exception of the UK.
While all of the main European countries have shown a decline in imports of American lobster, the UK has registered steady growth in imports of this product. The main reason for this development seems to be greater market exposure. Several restaurants and retailers are now offering American lobster in various forms, and consequently, the market has expanded.
Chinese demand for lobster grew in 2014-2015. Though this growth was expected to continue, an increase has not occurred, mainly due to the slowdown in the Chinese economy. This slowdown, coupled with significant increases in supply, have pushed Chinese prices down during the first quarter of 2016. In addition, it is expected that the New England lobster season will be earlier this year due to warmer waters in the region, and that will subsequently put extra pressure on prices.
Food service and restaurants have undergone a shift in how they use lobster, and this is having a dramatic impact on prices. In the past, lobster meat and lobster tails were priced at approximately the same level, as restaurants were used to handling both types of the lobster body.
However, this is changing as foodservice companies have entered the trade as suppliers of raw material/semi-processed products to restaurants, and are using more lobster meat than lobster tails.
This is due to the fact that most restaurants today do not handle live lobsters, as they would rather use the convenience of ready to prepare lobster meat. There is also a lack of processing capacity to deal with the lobster tails, and thus prices for lobster meat have skyrocketed over the past year.
Currently, the price of lobster meat is often more than USD 10 above the price of lobster tails.
The outlook for the 2016 season is not overly optimistic, although supplies will be strong. Prices will come under pressure, especially for American lobster. The proposed EU ban on imports of live lobster is still unresolved. However, as the ban would only affect live lobster exports, it would have a limited effect on trade. Prices for lobster tails and live lobster may decline.
TheFishSite News Desk