Local Lobster Season: A Bust (Part 2)

This is a note I sent to all our staff last week. Because this is the second year in a row that we will not be able to offer our popular spiny lobster tasting menu, I felt it was worth sharing in a broader context.
The spiny lobster season recently opened and once again the local community is being priced out of the market. It used to be that I could bid Pacific Shellfish against Chesapeake against Catalina Offshore to see who could get me the best price. Now the only player is Catalina Offshore, with Chesapeake playing a waiting game. The reason is because Catalina is so experienced at packing and sending, and that is what is happening to all our local lobsters – they are being packed and shipped live to Korea and China for a premium price. Wholesale from Catalina is $24.50 per pound; that translates to $36.75 per lobster!
I spoke to Dan at Catalina the other day because I feel it is really unfair. As one of the few restaurants that sources local product, including fish and seafood, we support local fishermen all year. Then when lobsters hit, we get shafted. His response was business is business. These fishermen have felt underpaid for 50 years, so they believe they are finally being paid what they deserve.
The Asia part of the story is a complicated one. I intend to find out more about it and will send out the information when I have it, but essentially a spiny lobster is a cultural token. These lobsters more than any other – more than Maine lobsters, more than Caribbean lobsters – are in demand because of cultural beliefs. The color and aggressiveness of the spiny lobster have significant importance in cultural celebration days, weddings, birthdays, and the like, and they are willing to pay whatever it takes to have them. Since Asia is flush with money, we just cannot compete.
The net result of this is another year with no local spiny lobster tasting menu. Yes, the boats you see on view from the restaurant are harvesting them. And yes, they are all going to Asia.
We are blessed with an incredible local bounty that serves as the foundation for what we do at George's California Modern. We work with what is available, at its peak of freshness, to create our menu. But we miss the local spiny lobster and the possibilities it allows for in the kitchen. We're guessing many of you miss it too. So, if anyone wants to splurge, just give me a few days notice and I'd be happy to bring some in for you (pending availability, of course).