PORTLAND, Maine — A glut has driven down lobster prices in Maine, bringing cheer to lobster-loving consumers at the start of the state’s tourist season but gloom to lobstermen.
Retailers have been selling small soft-shell lobsters in the Portland area for an unusually low $3.79 to $4.99 a pound. At those prices, lobsters have been selling for less than the per-pound price of bologna at many supermarket deli counters.
Zain Nemazie, of Austin, Texas, was expecting low lobster prices, but not this low, while on vacation in Maine with his family.
‘‘This is as good as it gets,’’ Nemazie said late last week after paying $4.59 a pound for 1½-pound lobsters at a seafood shop on Portland’s waterfront. ‘‘We’re from Texas, where we’d be paying at least $12 a pound.’’
At Docks Seafood in South Portland, owner Bob Coppersmith said customers were eating up the low prices, including a deal where he was selling five small live lobsters for $25. He later dropped it to five for $24.
The Fourth of July represents the unofficial start to Maine’s tourist season, when out-of-state visitors begin arriving in earnest.
Typically, Independence Day also is when Maine’s lobster catch begins picking up as lobsters begin shedding their hard shells in favor of new soft shells. Soft-shell lobsters have less meat, but they are easier to crack open and sell for a lower price.
This year, though, soft-shell lobsters began showing up in abundance in fishermen’s traps weeks earlier than normal.
Most of those lobsters usually go to Canadian processors. But the processors have not been able to handle the Maine catch because Canadian lobstermen had such strong catches during their spring season, resulting in a backlog, said Neal Workman, head of the Fisheries Exchange, a company in Biddeford that tracks prices, catches and other market information for the lobster industry.
For now, the excess supply in Maine has driven retail prices to under $4 a pound for the smallest of the soft-shell lobsters. Larger lobsters, and those that still have hard shells, are more expensive.
While consumers may be smiling, lobstermen are smarting from the low prices, between $2.50 and $3 a pound, they are getting. The season is young, and lobstermen are hopeful that prices will soon rebound to normal levels, said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.