Editor’s note: The Maine Lobster Festival, traditionally held around the first weekend of August, was canceled for a second straight year, so the Masthead Maine family of newspapers decided to give the state a week of lobster coverage to help readers enjoy our Maine’s iconic food. Coverage has been appearing in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel in other Masthead Maine papers this past week.

In 11 years of business, Wayne Dubay has never seen lobster prices so high before.

“It sucks,” said Dubay, owner of High Tide Low Tide Seafood locations in Madison and Skowhegan. “I’m paying, off the boat, $8 a pound for softshell, which is unheard of. I’m not buying many lobsters because of the prices. I’m buying probably 1,000 pounds a week when I’m usually buying about 10,000-ish.”

On the other hand, his takeout store in Skowhegan continues to sell lobster rolls at $25.99 each very steadily. Dubay theorizes that seafood customers still want the sought-after seafood meat; they just don’t want the hassle of cooking and handling live lobsters with prices so high.

“We seem to be moving lobster rolls alright; I think people are still craving lobster,” he said. “People like it all cooked.”

That experience is being echoed at other seafood establishments across central Maine: The high price this season has led to a downturn in live lobster sales, but cooked lobster meat is selling strongly.


Even so, Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association, said her South Portland-based organization is seeing “unprecedented demand” for lobsters across the globe. The lobster harvest, from Massachusetts and Maine up to Canada, is doing really well right now along with demand for seafood in general, which Tselikis said has been “off the charts” in recent months as pandemic restrictions were lifted. The overall lobster harvest typically results in 300-350 million pounds per year.

Caden Franzose of High Tide Low Tide Seafood moves lobsters in the tank July 29 at the Skowhegan business. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

But labor challenges abound in all industries right now, which can impact products that require handling. Tselikis said this also factors into consumer desire right now to purchase lobster meat that’s easier to handle and eat.

Michael Marois, owner of MAJEK Seafood & Grill on Lakeview Drive in the Kennebec County town of China, said he’s seen a dramatic decrease in the demand for live lobsters, but “lobster are selling as fast as we can make them.” Their rolls go for $22.99 each, with live soft-shells selling at $10.99 a pound.

As for what’s driving the high price, Marois wonders about the strength of the lobster catch and the impact of labor shortages affecting processing and distribution.

Despite speculation that prices may be high because the lobster catch is down, Tselikis said she’s seen no indication of that.

“Anecdotally, the people handling the product on a daily basis and the lobster buyers are extremely busy,” she said. “It’s not a low supply issue; it’s a high demand situation. The demand is just extremely high, incredible right now.”


High Tide Low Tide Seafood is seen in the background behind their signage in Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Mike Breton, owner of Sandy Point Seafood on Mount Vernon Avenue in Augusta, has also seen high prices impact the volume of his lobster sales. He was paying $5.99 a pound last year and has been paying $9.49 a pound this year. Combined with the continuing uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, Breton says it’s affected business.

“It’s definitely slowed down. We’re still very busy but not doing the volume we did,” Breton said. “Tourists are not up here as much either.”

Breton, who keeps about 500 pounds of live lobster on hand, said he’s interested to see what happens with the hard shell lobster season coming up. That price is typically close to $10 a pound, but current trends suggest that may be going up as well heading into the winter.

“I don’t know how much higher you can go,” Breton said. “I’ll just say, we appreciate everyone staying loyal with us.”

At the Silver Street Tavern & Restaurant in Waterville, sous chef Michael Williams says lobster roll sales are as strong as ever even as they cost around $30 each.

“They sell at any price; the price has gone up and people are still just buying it,” he said. “I think people just enjoy lobster and Maine is known for that. Tourists come here looking for it.”


Williams also thinks more than a year of stay-at-home pandemic recommendations have people now coming out in record-breaking numbers as restrictions are lifted and eating-out rebounds.

“We’re busier than we’ve ever been,” he said. “People are tired of being at home.”

Back at High Tide Low Tide in Somerset County, Dubay said he’s also seeing fewer Canadian customers than usual because of pandemic restrictions at the border. He’s looking forward to those conditions easing up and perhaps a return to more reasonable market lobster prices.

“I like to make one-third profit on (live) softshell, so I’m selling them $12.99 a pound; I’ve never sold them that high — ever,” Dubay said. “Four years ago, it was cheaper than chicken, selling at $3.99-$4.99 a pound. So, yeah, I’m obviously hoping we’ll be getting back to somewhat normal.”

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