Coronavirus outbreak is making lobster really affordable

The coronavirus may have shareholders feeling the pinch, but some gourmet diners are living large on low-priced lobster.

Prices for the seafood delicacy have hit rock bottom as charter flights that used to carry lobster from North America have all but halted due to restaurant cancellations and closed borders across Asia. The typically costly crustacean is a staple during February’s Chinese New Year celebrations, but fear of coronavirus has led many celebrants to cancel dinner plans.

Looking delicious with nowhere to go, the unsold seafood is now flooding North American markets, causing prices to sink to their lowest in four years, Bloomberg reported.

“We were able to offer a product that we normally weren’t able to because it was too expensive,” said Casey Peterson, COO of Giovanni’s Fish Market and Galley in Morro Bay, California. Peterson told USA Today Giovanni’s usually sells California spiny lobsters for $40 per pound. Prices have since been slashed by half, down to $19.99 a pound. “The prices went down a lot, so we’re able to offer it at a much cheaper price.”

While a boon to diners, the lobster overstock could be the last straw for US businesses already feeling squeezed by lost sales due to Washington’s trade war with China.

“This is like a fatal blow,” said Stephanie Nadeau, owner of wholesaler The Lobster Co. in Arundel, Maine. She told Bloomberg that orders to Hong Kong plummeted from an average of about 33,000 pounds a week to a total of just 3,960 pounds sold since late January.  “I’m about to lay off most of my employees.”

Nadeau said she’s already let eight of her 14 employees go.

“My customers got creamed, and I got creamed,” she said.

The US was once China’s primary live lobster supplier but began buying from Canada after Beijing enacted retaliatory tariffs on American imports in 2018. Now, amid coronavirus panic, demand for Canadian lobster has fallen to 5% of the normal rate — with excess lobster trickling down to the States, driving prices down even further.

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