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MARKET REPORT | BUYING TIPS | HEALTH / NUTRITION
The markets for spiny lobster have been relatively calm in recent months, although steady increases in Chinese demand for spiny lobster has increased the prices for most sizes. U.S. exports of spiny lobster to China and Hong Kong (where most of the imports are subsequently smuggled to the Mainland) rose a modest 8% through the end of August to 522 metric tons, which represents about a third of all the spiny lobster landed by U.S. fishermen. Exports of live lobster to China and Hong Kong actually declined, while exports of frozen whole lobster jumped another 30%, surpassing exports of live spiny lobster for the first time.
On the import side, supplies of frozen spiny lobster tails continued their long decline, as imports totaled 4,500 metric tons through August, a decline of 7% over the same period last year. Imports from Brazil, the largest single source of frozen spiny lobster tails for the U.S. market, actually increased slightly through August to 803 metric tons, an increase of 2%. Supplies of spiny lobster from the Bahamas, the second most important supplier, dropped almost 20%, as more of that country’s production is exported to China.
Prices of most frozen spiny lobster tails climbed sharply late this summer. The ex-distributor price of 14-16 oz, Caribbean tails jumped about $.50/lb. to $17.lb., while 6 oz. tails jumped $.60/lb. to $16.80/lb. Look for prices to remain steady until early next year when prices will spike due to demand from the Chinese New Year holidays.
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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