Chinese demand still growing but supplies falling behind

While there was a slight increase in supplies of North American and tropical lobsters in 2018, the increase is apparently not enough to keep up with demand. Consequently, prices continue to rise.


Between 2007 and 2016, landings of Homarus lobsters grew steadily, from 84?000 tonnes in 2007 to 164?200 tonnes in 2016. In 2017 there was a breaking point and landings declined from over 164?000 tonnes in 2016 to about 150?000 tonnes in 2017, a level which was confirmed in 2018. Landings in Maine, which normally account for 80 percent of US lobster landings, increased by 3?600 metric tonnes to 54?400 tonnes in 2018. The value of lobster landings in Maine amounted to USD 484 million, the third highest value it has ever reached.

Canadian landings of lobster were going up relatively steadily from 2010 until 2016, but now seem to have stagnated at just over 90 000 tonnes. In 2016 Canadian landings amounted to 92 600 tonnes, and in 2017 just a few tonnes less. In 2018, landings are estimated at almost 90 000 tonnes. The Canadians would like to increase their lobster harvest. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced in January that it is investing USD 1.3 million in an artificial reef project that aims to increase lobster harvest in Canadian waters. The project will run for four years and involves placing about 40 000 concrete block units on the ocean floor to provide shelter for lobster and other species.

International trade

Chinese demand for North American Homarus lobster and rock lobster from the Pacific has been growing for some time and is likely to continue this way. Chinese demand for Western Australia rock lobster is also strong but supplies are limited and consequently prices are high. Global trade of lobster weakened in 2018 compared to 2016 and 2017. The biggest exporter was Canada, reaching 85 500 tonnes, followed by the United States of America with 53 400 tonnes. Global imports declined by 11.5 percent in 2018 compared to 2017. The largest importer, the United States of America, experienced a slight decrease (-3.6 percent), while China and Canada imported more lobster.

Most lobster imports into the United States of America originated from Canada, as has been the case for years. In 2018, about 87.7 percent of total US lobster imports came from Canada. The trade is also strong the other way, as Canada is the main market for US lobster. In 2018, Canada accounted for 54.3 percent of US lobster exports, followed by China mainland (17 percent) and Hong Kong SAR (6.1 percent). Canada is the dominant supplier to China. In 2018, Canada exported 12 100 tonnes of lobster to China, representing 40 percent of the total lobster imports to China. Canadian lobster exports to China thus doubled. While the 25 percent Chinese tariff on US products was a major driver behind this, growing demand also fostered the increase in shipments from Canada. The value of Canadian exports of lobster to China hiked from USD 27 million in 2011 to USD 230 million in 2018. The United States of America was the second main supplier to China with 6?800 tonnes (23 percent of the total) and Australia was the third supplier with 5?100 tonnes (17 percent).


Lobster prices have been going up, mainly because of limited supplies and growing demand, especially in China. Shore prices in Canada were reported at CAD 9.00 (USD 6.78) per lb, which was an unprecedented price. Rock lobster prices have also been high, up to USD 70 per kg for live lobster going to the Chinese market. Lobster fishers in Maine have also reported higher prices in 2018, in spite of the higher volumes landed. Fishers were paid between USD 3.92 and USD 4.05 per lb.


It is fairly safe to assume that demand for lobster will continue to increase. In China, demand is continuing to grow, even though the economy is slowing down. Elsewhere, demand is also good. For example, in the Republic of Korea imports were up by almost 23 percent in 2018, reaching 5?900 tonnes. Other countries that imported more lobster in 2018 compared to 2017 included the United Kingdom (+12.5 percent), Malaysia (+37.4 percent) and the Philippines (+150.2 percent). Supplies have been increasing slightly from 2007 until 2016. In 2017 and 2018, total supplies actually declined by as much as 8–9 percent. At the same time, demand has been growing. If this trend continues, prices will continue to rise for some time.