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GLOBEFISH - Information and Analysis on World Fish Trade

Lobster - June 2015

01/06/2015

2014 a positive year for lobster trade with demand expected to further strengthen in the USA and EU.

Lobster is one of the most expensive fishery products entering international trade. The average unit value is USD 20 per kg, while for shrimp it is around USD 10 per kg and for finfish it is below USD 5 per kg. Although overall world production of lobster is negligible when compared to finfish or shrimp, this notable price premium demonstrates the significance of the species, especially pertaining to livelihood opportunities. Indeed, in the Caribbean, more than 100 000 fishers concentrate on lobster, and in some fishing communities it is the only means of livelihood.

Supplies

In late 2014, the lobster research community of the Caribbean met in Panama City to evaluate the status of the lobster resource in the Western Central Atlantic areas. Overall, their findings of the stock were positive, with scientists indicating that recent efforts to improve the management of the resource are working. In some areas, the stock can now be evaluated as fully exploited, which is an improvement over the previous over-exploited level. Closing seasons and establishing fishing sanctuaries have proved to be the most efficient management measures. However, challenges to management remain. Some Caribbean countries have failed to impose a moratorium on assisted diving, a fishing method that takes the lives of several hundred fishermen each year. The impact of making this fishing method illegal, which would result in thousands of unemployed people, was considered a socioeconomic non-viable option.

Lobster fisheries in the USA and Canada have been well managed for several decades through establishing a minimum size system.

USA

For 2014, the value of US lobster imports reached a new record of over USD 1 billion. This represents an 8% increase over the 2013 value with strong growth exclusively fuelled by Canadian lobster exports, which dominate the US market by over 85%. Countries harvesting lobster from Caribbean waters represent about 10% of US lobster imports in value terms, but these countries did not report any significant growth in exports during 2014. Lobster imports into the US market also grew in terms of volume, reaching an all time record high of 53 000 tonnes for 2014, an 8% increase compared with the previous year. Canada managed to increase its lobster exports by 10% from 40 000 tonnes to over 44 000 tonnes from 2013 to 2014. The Caribbean countries reported stable exports of lobsters to the US market during the period under review. The unit value of lobster in the US market is high at USD 20 per kg, with some lobster from Caribbean countries fetching more than USD 30 per kg.

EU

After the USA, the second major market for lobster is the EU. Roughly 23 000 tonnes of lobster are imported into the EU annually, mainly from the USA and Canada. In recent years, the slight decline in US imports has been balanced by stronger shipments from Canada. While in the past some Canadian lobster passed through the USA to be re-exported to the EU market, this trade is now done directly. The recent EU-Canadian free trade agreement is expected to further develop direct trade links between the two countries, with more Canadian lobster expected to reach the EU market in coming years. Other notable developments for 2014 include Iceland replacing Cuba as the number three exporting country, with Iceland providing over 1 000 tonnes to the EU market. Cuba, which has always been a major supplier to the EU in view of the US embargo on Cuban products, declined its exports to below 600 tonnes for 2014. Some of this decline is due to stringent management measures, but it is also likely that a portion of Cuban lobster is now being redirected to the domestic tourist industry as well as to neighbouring countries. Given that the majority of lobster in the EU market is the lower valued American lobster, the unit value of lobster in the EU is lower than in the USA at USD 16.4 per kg. Caribbean lobster is imported at a record high of USD 36.5 per kg.

Outlook

The positive economic situation in the USA is expected to strengthen demand for lobster, especially as it is considered a luxury fishery product for a high-end market bracket, such as for dinners with business partners. With strong demand in the US market, prices of lobster are likely to rise. Demand is also expected to grow in the EU market, as tariff reductions will make imports more convenient. However, the weakness of the euro will impact the market, as most of the lobster worldwide is traded in US dollars. The management efforts in the Caribbean lobster fisheries will result in positive effects on stock levels and thus also on world trade in coming years, with a stable supply of appropriate sized lobster likely to be available for future generations. 

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