China's rising middle class, along with Maine lobsters' big, meaty claws and relatively low price point, are helping fuel a big surge in American lobster sales in China.
China also buys lobsters from several other countries, but Robert Bayer of the University of Maine's Lobster Institute says the price of American lobster is very competitive.
"The primary competition in Asia in general is lobster from Australia and New Zealand, which has always been priced much, much higher than American lobster," Bayer says. "So we're able to compete on price, bigtime."
Australian rock lobster can go for hundreds of dollars in a Chinese restaurant. In comparison, American lobster sells for between $50 and $100. And American lobsters, unlike the Australian kind, have big, meaty claws.
Industry officials say the Chinese New Year is on the verge of becoming Maine's second-biggest lobster shipping week of the year, behind Christmas week. A whole steamed lobster is a traditional meal on that holiday, which this year falls on Thursday.
Federal statistics show American exports of live or processed lobster to China climbed from $2.1 million in 2009 to $90.5 million in 2014. China took about 12 percent of U.S. lobster exports in 2014, up from 0.6 percent in 2009.
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