The Maine Lobster Supply Chain Moves Fast

There are more than 9,000   licensed lobster fishermen, according to the Department of  Maine Resources,  and the lobster harvest in 2010 broke records.  Typically  the lobster fishermen sell to the 3,500 dealers in the state, who then turn around sell to wholesalers or processors.  Live and processed lobsters are then sold to restaurants, retailers and the hospitality companies like cruise lines, hotels or casinos.

There are exceptions to the structure where some wholesalers will buy direct from the harvesters.   There are also traders and shippers that jump in the line and buy from dealers to sell Maine lobster internationally.  But they are the exception.

refrigerated live maine  lobster trucks being loaded
Refrigerated live lobster trucks being loaded

The dealers play an important role as they must sort and quickly transfer the live lobster to processors and wholesalers.  The processors typically will operate canneries or prepare fresh frozen cooked  lobster meat for sale to retailers.  Wholesalers provide live lobster to retailers, restaurants and shippers.  Today, there are some dealers that are also wholesalers. Most processors are in Canada where the lobster harvest is ample year round.

Fast Moving Maine Lobster Supply Chain

Lobsters, like all shellfish, deteriorate quickly once they are taken from the ocean.  The entire process of moving the live lobster from harvest to someone’s dinner table must move incredibly fast.  Dealers and wholesalers must use aeration to keep lobster alive in lobster pounds or lobster tanks.  Trucks must be refrigerated.  The time it takes for a live Maine lobster to go  from lobster trap to the dinner table can often be just a couple of days.

live maine lobster in tanks
Aeration tanks allow fresh lobster to be stored

The  Maine lobster harvest can go on year round with lobster being especially abundant during the summer when the water is warm and the lobster are close to shore.  Unfortunately, spring and summer is when lobster molt. During the molting process,  a lobster loses its shell  to provide room to grow.  After molting, lobster are in a weakened condition with a soft shell and do not travel well.  The softshell lobster contains less meat than a hard shell lobster and has a higher mortality rate than a hard shell lobster. For this reason, most softshell lobster is sold locally.  This gives Maine summer tourists access to an abundant supply of low-cost, tasty lobster.  Hard shell lobsters are the choice when lobster has to be shipped longer distances.

Number One Fishing Segment

Maine benefits from an extensive shoreline with rocky inlets that create the ideal habitat for lobster.  Most lobster men go to sea each day in their own boats and fish between 500 and 600 traps.  The height of  the harvest is August to November, when supplies are most abundant.  With limited holding capacity, lobster prices are often at their lowest during these months.  With supplies healthy and conservation well managed, lobster has become Maine’s number one seafood product.  With modern overnight shipping,  anyone from anywhere in the United States can order lobster online one day and have fresh, live Maine lobster on his or her dinner table the very next day.

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