NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) – Nestled in a bun or picked from the shell, lobster meat is cheap and plentiful this summer as demand has dropped for the coveted crustaceans, according to New England seafood authorities.

Lobstermen and groups that represent them throughout New England say high energy prices, the lackluster economy and consumers’ financial worries all are contributing to the trend.

“People don’t want to spend the money on lobsters,” said Sean Coleman of Grossman’s Seafood in Groton. “Every nickel counts. At this point, I think it’s all going into the gas.”

At ShopRite in New London and Norwich, owner Ken Capano is selling live lobsters for $5.99 a pound, an “unprecedented” sale price that has lasted six weeks, he said.

“The price has come down, but more important, what I’m hearing is, the supply side to supermarket retailers is better because tourist consumption is down in Maine,” he said. “So there’s been more consistent supply.

“I’ve never seen anything like it where I’m able to promote lobsters at a reasonable price,” he said.

Bill Adler, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, says consumers’ slowed appetite at restaurants and supermarkets also will likely mean those outlets will order less from dealers.

That also helps decrease demand, he said. The result: The costs of harvesting lobsters may not be worth the dip in profits, according to Adler and others in the industry.

Lobstermen are working harder to cut costs – baiting fish longer, for instance, and pulling back on the throttle to conserve fuel – but that “makes for a longer day,” said Lanny Dellinger, president of the Rhode Island Lobstermen’s Association Inc.

Lobstermen are also going out less frequently, but for longer periods, so they can use less fuel, he said.

“If the economy stays like this, it’s going to put a lot of guys out of business,” he said. “There’s probably going to be some people fishing this year who aren’t going to be around next year. The guys that have low debt will survive and the ones that have debt won’t.”

Stonington lobsterman Richie Maderia says he is earning only $5.50 a pound through his business, Lindy Inc., this summer when selling lobsters wholesale to retailers.

That’s 50 cents below last year’s price.

Meanwhile, he said, diesel costs for his boat are almost double last year’s price and bait is up $20 a barrel to $30. That’s about $1,500 a week for 50 barrels of bait and $1,200 a week for fuel.

“It puts a real strain on your business. You’re operating at a very slim margin,” he said.

Lobstermen can’t pass on increased costs for what amounts to a perishable product, Adler said.

Dealers usually say what they will pay and, if the lobstermen protest, the dealer can tell them to take it or leave it.

“So the lobsterman gets squeezed because he’s got the cost going up and he’s got a product he has to get rid of, because if you do raise the price too high, it shuts off the markets,” Adler said. “Pretty soon (restaurants) take it off the menu and say, ‘Call me when it gets more reasonable.”‘

As low as Connecticut’s price is, the wholesale prices in Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts are even lower.

In Maine, where the catch is strong, the wholesale price has plummeted from $5.65 last year to less than $4 a pound this summer in some cases, said Bob Bayer, executive director of the Lobster Institute in Orono, Maine.

In Rhode Island, the price has rarely topped $5 a pound compared with $6 last year, Dellinger said.

“The average family isn’t going out for a lobster dinner this summer with the high cost of fuel and everything else,” Dellinger said. “That’s probably the biggest issue facing everybody, and we don’t have any control over that.”

And in the Bay State, lobsters are selling wholesale for $4.25 or less instead of last year’s market price of $5, Adler said.

The lower wholesale prices translate to lower retail prices, which are good for the consumer who does buy lobster.

In Pawcatuck, Seafood Etc. is charging $9.99 for a 1 and one-quarter-pound live lobster, while Old Lyme Seafood is netting $11.99.

“Demand is pretty strong,” said Dawn Root, owner of Old Lyme Seafood, who gets her lobsters from Rhode Island.

Adds Root’s cook, Judy Machnik: “That’s the type of food where, if you want it, you’re going to get it.”

Information from: The Day,

AP-ES-08-10-08 1331EDT

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