Lobster lovers were excited by the recent news that the price of soft-shelled lobsters is half what it was a year ago, because of a booming lobster population brought on by the warm winter. (Yay, catastrophic climate change!) Unfortunately, as we warned you, this price drop is mainly restricted to Maine and restaurants selling market price lobster. It will not make a dent in the steep cost of lobster rolls here in NYC, and Susan Povich, the co-owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound, explains why:
There is a GLUT of small soft-shell lobsters being pulled from the water. As much as I wish that we would have the benefit of these prices to pass on to our customers, the price of these specific lobsters does not affect our pricing. We wanted to explain why.
First, a bit of lobster ecology. Lobsters usually shed their shell a few times per year to accommodate their growth, just like a snake shedding its skin. A lobster that has very recently molted, often referred to as a “shedder,” doesn’t have a hard protective shell. These new shell lobsters do not live long out of water. Simply put, we can’t buy the inexpensive lobsters for resale in New York as they don’t like to travel.
Additionally, the price of the fresh lobster meat that we use in our rolls incorporates numerous factors, such as the price of lobster tails. The lobster tail market is severely depressed, which means that our precious claw and knuckle meat (IMHO, the BEST meat) is no longer subsidized by a high price lobster tail price. We pass on any discount we can, as we want everyone to be able to enjoy our LOBSTAH!
(Courtesy Luke's Lobster)
We spoke with Luke Holden at Luke's Lobsters, the popular Lobster Roll operation, and he sheds more light on the pricing. "The price for whole live or cooked lobsters should drop—both soft and hard shell," says Holden. "But the further away from Maine, the less elastic the price will likely will be. I think NYC should see a modest price decrease on whole live lobsters. It's a different story regarding cooked knuckles and claws ('ck').
"The price of ck is a function of yield and raw frozen lobster tails ('tails'). The price of tails fell through the floor for simple supply and demand reasons. The Canadians had a huge spring season and there was tail inventory left over from last year because speculators guessed otherwise on the size and timing of the season.
"On the flip side, there was no frozen ck in the market place, so all Canadian ck was gobbled up. This imbalance became significantly worse when the Maine season started a good 45 days early and came on super heavy. Tail inventory had not worked itself through the market so the price fell apart. The imbalance results in our cost for ck going up over last year.
"Our price is unlikely to change unless the tail market strengthens. In addition to that, I'm on the side of the lobstermen, I hope the tail market comes back and it just results in a better boat price, not more affordable ck. These fisherman can not make a sustainable living on the current prices even given the increased catch."
So yeah, lobster rolls will remain a luxury item, but it's worth noting that the Lobster Joint in Greenpoint serves $4 lobster sliders between the hours of 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays. (They've got $1 oysters during that time, too, and $4 drafts.) And if you're hell-bent on a proper lobster roll, here's our guide to the best in town.