Global Lobster Trade

continued from Homepage


“There are complex reasons
why prices have dropped
(and) you can link all of
these to some connection
with international trade.”

– Joshua Stoll


“There are complex reasons why prices have dropped,” he said. “But you can link all of these to some connection with international trade.”

The 2001 dip took place after Sept. 11, due to changes in flight patterns and shrinking of freight volumes, he said. The 2007-2008 drop took place during the global economic crisis. The 2011-2012 resulted from the early lobster shed of higher volume that resulted in conflicts with Canadian processors.

International trade, he said, “has created great opportunities for accumulation of wealth, and it addresses food security issues, and has positive net benefits,” he said. “But the implications of international trade for a place like Maine has also had some challenges.”

Stoll said his study uses UN data for fresh and frozen lobster.

“When you look at where product goes, it’s pretty interesting,” he said. Fourteen nations produce lobster, which is distributed to over 140 nations.

“To some extent, you can say it’s great, it creates a diversified marketplace,” he said, adding that the largest trade partners are the U.S. and Canada. “If you set that aside and look at where the other trade partners are, you see a lot in Asia and Europe and, basically, around the world. What’s important is that it isn’t the end of the story. There are a lot of nations that don’t produce product, that then re-export lobster to China.”


“China is a market
(which) appears to be
quite a bit higher
that we thought.”

– Joshua Stoll


For example, he said, records show that total lobster exports to China in 2014 were worth $131 million. “But then you start considering some of the re-export that’s happening, and the story gets more complex. You see a number of nations that re-export product and increase the total value.”

What’s happening, he said, is that some nations aren’t recording where they’re getting lobster from, but are recording that it’s being traded to China.

“You have countries like Sri Lanka that report trading to China, but don’t report where they’re getting it,” he said.

“There’s a long history of quasi-legal trade that happens. So when you talk with an exporter and with people in China, there’s some feeling that there’s some product that’s not reported but that end so up in China….You go from the perception that there’s a significant amount of product ending up in China. But then you look at the secondary trade routes that happen, and the value is considerably higher.”

What the data suggest, he said, “is that we’re aware there are growing markets for product all over the world. We know China is a market. But the reality is, it appears to be quite a bit higher than we thought.”

There are no clear conclusions yet on the implications of that scenario, he said.

“We’re still analyzing the data,” he said. “But one observation is that maybe we’re setting ourselves up for a surprise. This assumption is that we have a certain amount of product that’s going into these international markets, but in reality the market is a lot larger than we think.”

The literature shows where that uncertainty has had negative implications for other products, he said.

“There’s a case where there was a fairly substantial market for sea cucumbers coming from the Philippines into China, and because of natural disasters in China, that decreased the product, creating a crash in the marketplace in the Philippines. There are also examples of political conflict. Because a Nobel Prize was given to a Chinese dissident, the Chinese government retaliated and put a tariff on the Norwegian salmon industry….If we’re not paying attention to the magnitude of the market, it might set us up for some sort of surprise.”


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