Consumers: Demand for Lobster in China

Why is so much of our California spiny lobster being sent to China? Well, simply put, its because they love it and are willing to pay for it. Chinese demand for lobster has driven prices up higher than most Americans are willing to pay.

So the next question is, why is Chinese demand for lobster so high? The answer has a lot to do with cultural beliefs. The Chinese value the freshness of live seafood and many believe that seafood coming out of US waters is cleaner than that from China. In the case of the lobster, there is especially high demand for it because not only is it shipped live from the US but to an increasingly large middle class, it is seen as a status symbol to be able eat lobster. Furthermore, the Chinese believe that the lobster is considered lucky because of its red color and resemblance to a dragon. Because it represents a symbol of luck, it is often served at weddings or Chinese holidays such as Chinese New Year.

The price of California spiny lobster in a San Diego seafood market in October of 2015 (the beginning the season when prices are lowest). 

Demand for lobster in China started with the Australian lobster which looks very similar to the California spiny lobster. However, the Australia fishery was unable to keep up with the Chinese demand and by the end of the 90s/early 2000s the California lobster was being exported in large numbers to help meet Chinese demand. This increased demand from China has raised prices of California spiny lobster to the point where most US consumers are not willing to pay for it. Demand for lobster in China has continued to increase and beginning around 2009 American lobster also began being exported to China in huge numbers.

The Chinese serve lobster differently than we do in the United States. While we typically steam the American lobster or grill the Californian spiny lobster, the Chinese serve it in a much wider variety of dishes. The type of dish and how it is served differs regionally. In some areas it is served chopped up and stir fried with spices and noodles. While in other areas it is the centerpiece of a dish and table, served whole both cooked or sashimi style raw and shared with family and friends.