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MARKET REPORT | BUYING TIPS | HEALTH / NUTRITION
In spite of Beijing’s austerity campaign designed to rein in the lavish entertainment of government officials, China remains the main driver of the spiny lobster market. U.S. exports through August of live and frozen spiny lobster to China from both Florida and California (California spiny lobster) was up a whopping 76% to almost 500 metric tons. While live exports were up another 15% to 277 metric tons, the growth in frozen exports was up almost 700% to about 200 metric tons.
“That’s important,” says one lobster exporter. “The Chinese have always insisted on live, but now they are more than willing to import frozen product. That opens up a much bigger market in China for U.S. spiny lobster.” If this trend continues, he adds, China will soon be importing more than half of the U.S. production of spiny lobster.
Chinese demand has led to a drop in U.S. imports of frozen spiny lobster tails in recent years, from more than 10,000 metric tons to about 7,500 metric tons last year. The sharpest drop has been in imports of coldwater tails from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Since 2005, U.S. imports of coldwater spiny tails have plummeted from about 2,500 metric tons to just 500 metric tons, as almost all of that production is now exported live to China.
U.S. imports of frozen warmwater tails, on the other hand, have actually increased due to increased supplies from the Bahamas, Honduras and Nicaragua. Lobster fisheries in these countries are largely dive fisheries, where only tails are delivered to processing plants. If China’s demand for frozen spiny tails continues to grow, as is likely, look for more of this product to head to China instead of the U.S.
China’s appetite for lobster has helped drive FOB Miami prices of 6 oz. Caribbean frozen tails up almost $1/lb. so far this year to about $17/lb. So far, it seems, Beijing’s “four dishes, one soup” policy has done little to curb China’s growing demand for spiny lobster.
Spiny lobsters are sold fresh live and frozen in raw tails and meat as well as whole, either blanched or fully cooked. Spiny lobsters are typically graded by the ounce and fresh supply is mostly available before the new year. These warmwater lobster tails will be smooth and have a spotted, greenish shell. It has a soft texture, delicate flavor and is frequently marketed as warmwater tails. The quality and texture of warmwater lobster tails varies considerably depending on handling. Unlike American lobster, spiny lobsters have a spiny hard shell for protection and lack large front claws.
Buyer Beware: Avoid diver-caught tails that are mushy and textured from sitting too long on a boat. Some buyers recommend finding trusted brands and sticking with them since some producers add weight with excessive glaze or a tripoly solution soak
fresh & frozen products
Spiny lobster may be substituted for other shellfish.
FISHERY IMPACTS ON STOCK | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
Fishery Impacts on Stock
Caribbean spiny lobsters, sometimes called Florida lobster or rock lobster, is a highly fecund species that can be long-lived, depending on the level of fishing pressure. Migration routes do make them easy to capture in large numbers. Caribbean spiny lobsters are found in the warm waters off the southeastern United States, in the Gulf of Mexico, and throughout the Caribbean to Brazil. Overall data about the species’ abundance remains uncertain although scientific stock assessments have been done in Florida, where the lobsters are not considered overfished. However, most Caribbean spiny lobster is imported from Latin America, where they are overfished.
These spiny lobsters are commonly caught using pots and traps made from wood, plastic or metal that are weighted to the seafloor. Lobster traps may have a moderate to severe effect on the ocean habitats such as rocky reefs and coral as well as sandier areas, according to a 2013 Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch report. Some spiny lobsters are also caught by divers. In Florida, ecological reserves have been created where lobster fishing is prohibited.
Bycatch in the U.S. fishery is limited but can include undersized lobster as well as finfish such as groupers, snappers, grunts and ornamental fish, according to the Blue Ocean Institute. Fishermen with certain permits are allowed to keep and sell incidental grouper and snapper catch, however. Lobster traps in the U.S. must have biodegradable escape panels to prevent ghost fishing. While sea turtles have had some interactions with spiny lobster traps in the Florida fishery, the number of entanglements is low. Regulations are not enforced in Nicaragua, Honduras, Brazil, and the Bahamas so bycatch there often includes undersized lobsters. In addition, finfish and crab are the most common non-targeted species caught in those regions but exact data is unknown.
The management of Caribbean spiny lobsters differs dramatically depending on the region. Measures in Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico include minimum size limits, seasonal restrictions, gear restrictions and annual catch limits. Management is considered effective in Mexico, where area restrictions, gear limits and scientific monitoring are in place. In Florida, population assessments have been expanded in recent years to include scientific research and observer data, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Regulations in the Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Honduras, and Nicaragua are not commonly enforced, resulting in widespread illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. In addition, scientific data is extremely limited. A Monterey Bay Aquarium report from 2013 called management effectiveness a high concern in Belize and the Bahamas and a critical concern in Brazil, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
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