Dave Casmi has made his living fishing for lobsters along the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for 40 years. But he and other lobster fishermen are asking themselves if it’s even worth untying their boats from the dock anymore.
In today’s market, they are suffering from an economic triple whammy: High fuel prices mean it’s more expensive to trap lobsters, and the recession finds fewer people splurging on their catch. Plus, a lobster’s market value begins depreciating the moment it’s caught.
“I’m getting what I got 15 years ago,” he said, referring to the amount distributors are paying for his catch. “Just how long would you spend $3 to make $4?”
The situation is particularly painful for Casmi and his fellow lobstermen due to their inability to mark up the price to cover the cost of fuel: Distributors aren’t going to pay more for a product that is selling less. And because lobster needs to be sold shortly after being caught, Casmi can't hold out for higher bidders.
Higher up the lobster supply chain, Casmi’s woes are being echoed.
Dave Madden, a salesman at Cape Cod-based Lobster Trap Co., said he and other distributors have to pay fuel surcharges to transportation companies shipping the lobsters sold to restaurants and markets around the world.
“We have to mark up,” Madden said. “We operate on very small margins.”
The result is higher prices for seafood in local restaurants such as Boston’s B&G Oysters.
Stephen Oxaal, the head chef at that high-end restaurant, said the $35 roasted lobster tail is more expensive than usual - thanks to higher fuel prices.
At the current price of marine diesel - $3.74 a gallon at the State Pier in New Bedford, Massachusetts – Dave Spencer said he will pay $50,000 more to fill up his 85-foot lobster boat than he did last year.
A small business such as his can’t sustain that kind of profit loss, said Spencer of Newport, Rhode Island.
Nevertheless, Spencer will still incur the higher costs because he has other people depending on him.
“I’ve got a crew to think about,” he said, “a crew that has families to feed.”
Just don’t expect those families to feed on the fruits of their labor anytime soon.
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