Consumers: Mitch's Seafood
Consumer demand for California spiny lobster in the United States is tiny compared to demand from China. However, that doesn't mean it isn't available. You just need to know where to look. Finding California spiny lobster on a local menu in Southern California is not easy. If you are lucky enough to find it, you better be willing to shell out an arm and a leg to pay for it. The majority of places serving the local lobster are high end white table cloth restaurants. There are exceptions however. One of the few places in San Diego where you can find locally caught California spiny lobster on the menu is Mitch's Seafood in Point Loma. Not only does Mitch's serve the local lobster, they offer it in a casual waterfront dining atmosphere with approachable prices.
When asked why they sell California spiny lobster, Mitch told me that it is part who they are. As a restaurant that focuses on serving local seafood, Mitch’s thinks its important to share with their customers one of San Diego’s top delicacies. They are proud to serve it and they should be. Mitch, his brother, and his two business partners all commercially fish for lobster (Mitch is a deckhand on his brother’s boat). The majority of the lobster they sell, they caught. If you are lucky enough to be sitting on the deck of Mitch’s Seafood you may even see them carrying the lobsters up from the boats into the restaurant. It doesn’t get fresher than that! It is also one of the reasons they can afford to sell California spiny lobster. The restaurant buys the lobster direct from the fishermen allowing them to get it at boat prices, which are lower than what most restaurants pay when they buy through a wholesaler.
You can find California spiny lobster on Mitch’s menu in a variety of options. A favorite is lobster split in half and grilled with garlic, lemon and lots of butter. You may also find other delicious options such as lobster tacos, lobster bisque, and lobster corndogs. Mitch’s Seafood makes sure to not let anything go to waste. The shells are boiled to add flavor to the bisque and even the small bits of meat in the legs are utilized.
While Mitch’s Seafood buys most of their lobster from themselves, they will also buy from other fishermen when some of their catch is undesirable to other buyers. An example of this would be when a lobster has multiple broken legs. Most buyers won’t buy these "damaged" lobsters because they less of a chance of surviving the long trip to China or they are undesirable to their Chinese customers. Mitch’s helps the fishermen out by buying them up at a slightly reduced price and then offering lobster specials like $5 lobster tacos or lobster corndogs.
While Mitch’s Seafood makes it a point to serve California spiny lobster every season, they do struggle to keep it on the menu for the entire season (October-March). The boat price of the California lobster is set by the market. The market is dominated by China and the demand for California spiny lobster in China is huge. This creates competition among buyers and increases prices. Most of the lobster in California is caught in the first half of the season, with a significant quantity caught between opening day and Thanksgiving. It is during this time, that supply is up and boat price is at its lowest. This is when Mitch’s Seafood has lobster on the menu. After Thanksgiving, the supply goes down, prices rise, and it is no longer financially feasible to keep lobster on Mitch’s menu. It is not that Mitch’s is trying to make a great profit off selling the local lobster. A normal restaurant marks its food up around 300% to cover the expenses of running the restaurant, any less and a restaurant could be loosing money. When Mitch’s sells local lobster they only mark it up 60-70%. Mitch says that they consider it more of a point of pride to provide local lobster to their customers rather than a lucrative business decision.
Many people in Southern California have no idea that a local lobster even exists here. While Mitch’s Seafood has many “lobster regulars”, who return each season to enjoy the local delicacy, sometimes his staff have to educate customers on why there are no claws on their lobsters or ensure them that they are in fact local. Mitch says that in an ideal world all of the California spiny lobster would be kept in the United States. However he doesn’t blame anyone for selling their lobsters to big exporting companies. As someone who has grown up around fishing he recognizes that fishermen need to make a living and that it is not easy. He just wishes that instead of importing over 90 percent of the seafood that we eat here in the US, that consumers would start appreciating the quality seafood that comes out of our own local waters and supporting our local fishermen. We couldn't agree more!
Lobster season will open in October. Start making plans, so that you too can enjoy this local delicacy and support your local fishermen!
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