Maine's 2021 Lobster Haul Just Broke This Record

2021 didn't see the biggest lobster haul for Maine, but it did see the state's most valuable haul. That year, 108 million pounds of lobster were brought in at a value of $727 million. The previous most valuable lobster harvest was actually the largest as well, at over 132 million pounds netted. But the historical haul was only worth the relatively paltry amount of $541 million, per the State of Maine Department of Marine Resources.

The explosion in value for 2021's haul may be due to how 2020 saw the first sub-100 million pound lobster harvest since 2010, leaving expectation and demand to build, according do wbur. However, not everything is necessarily rosy for the industry. Citing "supply-chain issues with both bait and gear," Friendship lobsterman and Vice President of the Maine Lobstermen's Association Dustin Delano told the same outlet that "a lot of people are quite worried that if we don't see that price that we saw in 2021 in this coming year, it's going to be quite a struggle." 

The omni-issue of the supply chain is not the only one looming over the industry either. As the oceans warm, the Mainer lobster farmers will have to adapt, especially if most of the state's fishing industry single-mindedly relies on lobster. Many may expand to harvest kelp as well to offset the years that look like 2020 more than 2021.

Why did the demand for lobsters rise?

Unless you happen to closely follow lobster news, the growing demand for lobsters is probably not from a group you'd immediately suspect. The value of American-caught lobster has not been entirely created by an American consumer base that happens to love pricey lobster dinners at fancy restaurants and lobster ravioli. Rather, lobster's booming market is in China.

As AP News reported in January, 2021 saw 6% more lobsters exported to China than in 2020, reaching a total of 13.2 million pounds. In China, lobster is the delicacy for celebrating the Lunar New Year, and with the nation's growing middle class, more Chinese citizens can afford the costs involved in importing it from across both the Pacific Ocean and the landmass of North America. 

Apparently, according to Chef Joseph Poon, the popularity began because the lobster symbolizes dragons. "In America, the dragon is evil, but in China, the dragon is macho man! He is the top of the heap," he described to Philly Voice. So eating such a symbol at the year's beginning is good luck. As you might imagine, lobsters harvested more locally, in South China Sea, are what provided the foundations for this connection. However, they are farmed in smaller numbers than the Maine lobster. So, they are more expensive, even when you account for importing.