After a mid-decade explosion resulting from heavy exports into Asian markets, spiny lobster prices are calming, industry voices say, but not enough to raise concerns. Availability of the clawless crustaceans remains steady, although some regional disparities have been noted so far this year.
Fishermen say they expect the decapods to reach the southernmost Florida Keys, where catches have been low, before this season ends depending on what fronts push through and from what direction. For the past two years the weather has not been conducive to early mass migration.
Lobster prices remain steady, however, at less than $10 per pound, in most cases closer to $8.
The price has much to do with what buyers will pay in China, where spiny lobsters — also called Florida or Caribbean lobsters — have emerged as a desired product in a steady market.
“They’ve got more buyers and more places to buy them, so the price ended up moderating,” Starling said. “Now they’re out of the extreme, pretty much $8.50, $11.50, even $12.”
Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, notes that three years ago lobsters hit a high of nearly $20.50 at the boat, then $15.50 the next year.
“They devalued their currency,” Kelly said of the Chinese. “And now Australia is back in the market; they had tariff issues they had to resolve with the Chinese.” But the Chinese market remains strong. Eighty percent is exported to Asia, including China. What is retained is gobbled up for domestic consumption.
Kelly says the resource itself is in good shape, and that while catches dropped from 2015 to 2016, the harvest was well above what would be considered a level of concern. As long as the harvest stays above 5 million, he said, there is no need for a stock assessment by the state of Florida. The total harvest for 2015 was 5.93 million pounds, and 5.35 million in 2016, and both are well below the allowed allotment of 5.9 million pounds.
The average price stood at $8.06 and $8.18 respectively, for 2015 and 2016. Where things go from here, Kelly said, is not up to fishermen.
“Mother nature has her fingers in this,” Kelly said. “It’s largely a question of time and tide.”