Forget hot dogs, glut means cheaper prices for lobsters

In this photo made Thursday, June 28, 2012, Bob Coppersmith updates the price board at Dock’s Seafood Restaurant in South Portland, Maine, dropping the price of five small lobsters down to $24. Many stores are selling the king of seafood for under $5 a pound, making it cheaper than bologna by weight.

PORTLAND, Maine — A glut has driven down lobster prices in Maine.

Retailers have been selling small soft-shell lobsters in the Portland area for an unusually low $3.79 to $4.99 a pound. At those prices, lobsters have been selling for less than the per-pound price of bologna at many deli counters.

Zain Nemazie, of Austin, Texas, was expecting low lobster prices — but not this low — while on vacation in Maine with his family.

“This is as good as it gets,” Nemazie said late last week after paying $4.59 a pound for large 1 1/2-pound lobsters at a seafood shop on Portland’s waterfront. “We’re from Texas, where we’d be paying at least $12 a pound.”

Typically, Independence Day is when Maine’s lobster catch begins picking up as lobsters begin shedding their hard shells in favor of new soft shells. Soft-shell lobsters have less meat, but they are easier to open and are cheaper.

This year, though, soft-shell lobsters began showing up weeks earlier than normal.

Most of those lobsters usually go to Canadian processors. But the processors haven’t been able to handle the Maine catch because Canadian lobstermen had such strong catches during their spring season, resulting in a backlog, said Neal Workman, head of The Fisheries Exchange, a Biddeford company that tracks prices, catches and other market information for the lobster industry.

All soft-shell lobsters are sold locally, because they’re too fragile to ship long distances. The lobsters sold outside of New England are usually hard-shell lobsters, which command a high price and can be shipped long distances.