Price of the precious lobster roll may be verging on hard to stomach

·3 min read
A traditional lobster roll is made with lobster meat, mixed with mayo, and served on a hot toasted bun. Variations can bring in butter, celery and herbs and spices. (Aniekan Etuhube/CBC - image credit)
A traditional lobster roll is made with lobster meat, mixed with mayo, and served on a hot toasted bun. Variations can bring in butter, celery and herbs and spices. (Aniekan Etuhube/CBC - image credit)

The lobster roll, traditionally a simple toasted bun stuffed with lobster meat mixed with mayonnaise, has long been a mouth-watering treat in the Maritimes.

And this year, a single one of those treats in New Brunswick could cost up to $27.

That's on par with prices in high-end restaurants in Europe, where demand for lobster is high.

As the season gets underway, restaurant owners cite this high export demand, along with inflation, as driving up the price of lobster.

And they wonder whether customers will be able to stomach the cost of their favourite sandwich.

WATCH | The price of a lobster roll this season is a mouthful

Restaurants around the province are buying lobsters for as much as $18 per pound, up $5 from last year.

Roy Billingsley, owner of Steamers Lobster Co., a popular lobster-roll joint in uptown Saint John, said rising lobster prices in recent years are a concern.

"We are always apprehensive this time of year when it comes to lobster prices," he said. "The last couple of years we've seen increases in prices upwards of 30 per cent, which is not ideal for a restaurant such as ours."

Aniekan Etuhube/CBC
Aniekan Etuhube/CBC

Because of the price spike, Billingsley said, his customers will pay $27 for one lobster roll this summer, at least in the short term, an increase of $5 from last year.

"Unfortunately, our prices need to rise to match the rising cost that we have incurred," he said.

Billingsley said he has paid as much as $18 for a pound of lobsters this season, which hurts.

"This morning, I paid $15 a pound, which is about as cheap as I found it this year." he said.

In past years, lobster prices have dropped as mid-season approached, but inflation combined with demand from other countries, makes that unlikely this year, Billingsley said.

"My prices are tied to my costs, so right now, with the cost of lobster being what it is, I need to charge what I'm charging. As summer progresses, if that price of lobster rises, I'm going to need to raise the price of my lobster roll."

'It's all gone up'

Ernest Robichaud, a fishing captain and Harbour manager at MacEachern's Point wharf in Tabusintac, said lobster prices are also going up this season because of the high cost of gas, bait, boat parts, and other things. Expenses for fishers are up 25 to 30 per cent over last year.

"The expense is going to be there whether the lobsters are there or not, and if the prices are too high, the citizens around can't afford to buy them." Ernest said.

Aniekan Etuhube/CBC
Aniekan Etuhube/CBC

High demand around the world for Canadian lobster also drives up the price locally. In 2021, exports were worth $3.2 billion.

"Having the federal government drop a lot of the tariffs on our seafood is causing a lot of that seafood to be shipped overseas and elsewhere, and it's causing the price here at home to rise," Billingsley said.

And it may mean a boost to the local economy and a boon for fishermen, the rising price means locals aren't always able to afford the lobster rolls caught in their own backyard.

At some point people might stop paying

Aniekan Etuhube/CBC
Aniekan Etuhube/CBC

Pauline Robichaud, a supervisor at Chez Raymond in Neguac, said tourists will probably buy lobster rolls at the current price, but they're too expensive for local people.

"I think it's very hard for the locals to understand that," Robichaud said. "I always say, 'Why not have a price just for the locals?'"

If prices keep rising, Billingsley doesn't see the brightest future for the New Brunswick lobster roll.

'At some point, people are going to stop paying, with the cost going the way that they are going."

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