Earlier this week, I took a trip to Southern Maine. The sheer volume of snow has brought most of the region’s activities to a halt – except one. A visit to Perkins Cove (a traditional summer destination for tourists and Lobster aficionados) revealed many lobster boats had been cleared of snow and were obviously active. I noticed several lobstermen heading out to check their traps on Monday morning...The lobster business seems to be thriving.
This was odd. In prior years, few if any lobstermen would be active in February…given the post New Year’s plunge in demand for lobsters. Was there any reason to think this dynamic was related to my global protein demand thesis? (See my “King Morocco” piece HERE). I simply had to investigate.
What I found was fascinating. According to the Associated Press, Maine is the de facto center of America’s lobster industry and accounts for more than 80% of production. In the 1800s, lobsters were so plentiful that they were routinely fed to prisoners and servants, some of whom demanded it not be served to them more than twice a week (click HERE for more history). Today, the industry exports more than several hundred million dollars worth of lobster each year and has been growing steadily for years. Perhaps the single biggest driver of growth in demand for lobsters? China.
So what? China has gone from a 0.6% share of US exports in 2009 to almost 12% in 2014. While such a share grab would be impressive in a static market, it’s more impressive in a fast growing one. During the same five-year timeframe, exports of lobster to China grew from ~$2 million to more than $90 million (click HERE). As per capita GDP has risen, protein appetite (pardon the pun!) has boomed.
The Year of the Sheep (or Goat? Or Ram? Click HERE for a “clarification”) celebrations are accelerating a seemingly insatiable demand for lobsters as a burgeoning middle class seeks to enjoy the auspiciously red crustacean delicacy. Many also believe lobsters are an aphrodisiac (as an efficient low-fat source of protein, it naturally boosts dopamine and norepinephrine and heightens sensitivity), a belief that drives strong demand from young couples as well as a more well-to-do, older crowd.
It’s fortuitous that female lobsters often carry tens of thousands of eggs (click HERE) and that males have remarkable endurance (one apparently traveled 273 miles – click HERE), because their reproduction-inspiring qualities may ultimately necessitate more lobster reproduction as the incessant quest for protein continues!