Trade hostility from across the ocean was supposed to take a snip out of the U.S. lobster business, but the industry is getting a lifeline from its northern neighbour. File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Trade hostility from across the ocean was supposed to take a snip out of the U.S. lobster business, but the industry is getting a lifeline from its northern neighbour. File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

We’ll take your lobsters, eh? Canadian imports from U.S. soar

PORTLAND, Maine — Trade hostility from across the ocean was supposed to take a snip out of the U.S. lobster business, but the industry is getting a lifeline from its northern neighbour.

Heavy demand from Canada is buoying American lobster as both countries head into the busy holiday export season, according to federal statistics and members of the industry. It’s a positive sign for U.S. seafood dealers and fishermen, even as the industry struggles with Chinese tariffs.

China emerged as a major consumer of American lobster earlier this decade, but the country slapped heavy tariffs on exports in July amid its trade kerfuffle with President Donald Trump’s administration. Lobster exports slowed to a crawl.

Industry watchers forecast the move as a potential calamity for U.S. seafood, but Canada has boosted the value of its lobster imports from America by more than a third so far this year, up to more than $180 million through September.

Canada has its own lobster fishing industry, which harvests the same species as U.S. fishermen, and the country sells lobsters domestically as well as to Europe and Asia. The country’s importing so many from the U.S. this year because it needs enough supply to send to China, said members of the lobster industry on both sides of the border.

“They go there to go to China, to avoid the tariffs,” said Spiros Tourkakis, executive vice-president of East Coast Seafood, a dealer in Topsfield, Massachusetts.

The brisk sales to Canada are among a number of unexpectedly positive signs in a U.S. lobster fishery that had been primed for a difficult year. The lobster fishing business is based mostly in Maine, where the catch fell by about a sixth last year to a little less than 111 million pounds. The price to fishermen was also down slightly last year.

This year’s catch total won’t be available until early 2019, but it appears to have been a strong year, and prices to fishermen seemed to be a little bit better, said Beth Casoni, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association. Lobsters have also been easy to find in stores for domestic consumers, and the retail and wholesale prices have been competitive with recent years.

“Most of the guys feel like they’ve had a pretty good year,” Casoni said. “About a month ago everybody was really concerned about not going to China due to the tariffs. From what I’ve heard, there hasn’t been much of an impact locally.”

The Chinese tariffs remain a concern for New England’s international seafood dealers, who have seen China grow from a tiny fraction of the international market to one of its biggest buyers. The country took about 5 million pounds of U.S. lobster, valued at $40 million, from July to September last year, and saw those number about halved this year.

The loss of Chinese market share has come at a time when American lobster shippers have also lost ground in Europe, as Canada and the European Union reached a seafood trade deal that put the U.S. at a disadvantage.

A big test for the U.S. lobster industry will be the Christmas holiday in Europe and Chinese New Year, which are typically major shipping periods for the crustaceans.

“My latest thinking is that the U.S. economy is strong and this is going to carry over into lobster,” said John Sackton, a seafood analyst and publisher of SeafoodNews.com. “Exports have not stopped, just down about 50 per cent, so some are still being shipped.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Grant Hunter, associate minister of red tape reduction, is proud of the work his ministry has done over the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo contributed)
Alberta gets A for red tape reduction

The Alberta government is getting a thumbs up for its work on… Continue reading

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)
Not all long-term care workers have received their vaccines including a Red Deer facility

There continues to be confusion in long-term care and supportive living facilities… Continue reading

Cattle graze winter pasture in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies near Longview, Alta. on Jan. 8, 2004. Concern over the provincial government’s decision to drop a coal policy that has protected the eastern slopes of the Rockies for decades is growing among area communities. At least six cities, towns and municipal districts in southwest Alberta have now expressed concern about the decision and the fact it was made with no consultation. The latest is Longview, where mayor Kathie Wight is drafting a letter to the government opposing the move. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
More southern Alberta communities voice concern over province’s plans to expand coal

Concern over the Alberta government’s decision to drop a coal policy that… Continue reading

Some residents say there is no longer an effective Nordegg fire department to respond to emergencies in the West Country. (Contributed photo).
Some Nordegg residents worry about lack of emergency response in the West Country

The possibility of wildfires or accidents is ‘scary’ says former fire leader

FILE - Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has his final meeting of the season with the media at the NHL hockey team's practice facility in Cranberry, Pa., in this Wednesday, May 9, 2018, file photo. Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, a Hall of Famer who helped lead to a pair of Stanley Cup titles, resigned abruptly on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, who oversaw Cup wins, resigns

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, who oversaw Cup wins, resigns

Outfielder George Springer is shown in a screengrab from a virtual news conference he took part in on Wednesday, Jan.27, 2021. Springer says he's excited to be a part of a young, talented team like the Toronto Blue Jays, a club he believes has plenty of potential. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Blue Jays introduce outfielder George Springer after signing him to six-year deal

Blue Jays introduce outfielder George Springer after signing him to six-year deal

Bucs fans set to cheer inside, outside Super Bowl stadium

Bucs fans set to cheer inside, outside Super Bowl stadium

Hamilton Tiger Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli tries to fend off Saskatchewan Roughrider Zack Evans during first half CFL football game action in Hamilton on Thursday, June 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli signs extension with Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli signs extension with Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Ottawa Senators defenceman Thomas Chabot (72) tries to clear Vancouver Canucks centre Jay Beagle (83) from in front of Senators goaltender Marcus Hogberg (1) during second period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, January 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Demko dynamite as Vancouver Canucks beat Ottawa Senators 5-1

Demko dynamite as Vancouver Canucks beat Ottawa Senators 5-1

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) knocks a rebound away from Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell (24) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Lowry reaches 10,000-point plateau as a Raptor in 115-108 loss to Milwaukee

Lowry reaches 10,000-point plateau as a Raptor in 115-108 loss to Milwaukee

Dallas Stars right wing Alexander Radulov (47) and defenseman John Klingberg (3) celebrates a goal by Joe Pavelski against the Nashville Predators during the third period an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021 in Dallas. (AP Photo/ Richard W. Rodriguez)
‘Sloppy’ hockey is the name of the game early in NHL season

‘Sloppy’ hockey is the name of the game early in NHL season

Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith instructs his team in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on February 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, David Zalubowski
With less practice time, NHL morning skates making a comeback in 2021

With less practice time, NHL morning skates making a comeback in 2021

Most Read