NEWBURYPORT — The tanking economy is having an effect on local lobster tanks.
People are staying away from what are usually among the most expensive seafoods, driving prices down.
"At this point, the price of lobster is so low and the price of fuel and bait is so high, it's up to each lobsterman to decide if it's worth it," said Bob Campbell, manager of Yankee Fisherman's Cooperative in Seabrook, which buys from 15 to 25 boats. "Everything is in such flux that everyone's waiting to see which way to go."
Campbell couldn't quote a boat price for lobster yesterday. He said he is working what he called an "open ticket."
"It means I've got figure where I can sell it and what I can get for it before I can tell them what I can pay them," he said.
"It affects the lobstermen more than anyone," said Joyce Hartigan of Plum Island, whose husband, Bob, traps lobsters for a living and owns Bob Lobster fish market and restaurant on Plum Island Turnpike. "The market is full and there's very little demand."
"Prices are down as low as they've been in several years," said Gordon Blaney, owner of David's Fish Market on Bridge Road in Salisbury, where retail lobster prices start at $4.99. "For the last few months if you've got to put gas in your car or eat lobster, which are you going to do?"
Sean Fairweather, manager of Bob Lobster, said high fuel prices and low prices are keeping boats in port because it's not worth the lobstermen's time to set out traps.
"The high price of fuel means less fishing days," he said.
Fairweather said Bob Lobster is running some specials on lobster dinners to take advantage of the low price. For example, he said, twin 1-pound lobsters are selling for $17.99, down from the usual $23.99.
In Maine, lobstermen are talking about tying up their boats, and dealers are suggesting they haul fewer traps to get prices back up.
The wholesale price of Maine lobster has plunged more than 20 percent in the past week to as little as $2.60 per pound in some harbors. Dealers say the international credit crisis has effectively shut off orders from major processors in Canada.
"This is the worst time for this to happen," said Peter McAleney, owner of New Meadows Lobster in Portland, who has been asking lobstermen to haul fewer traps to limit the glut.
Maine Marine Resources Commissioner George Lapointe said this is a time of year when lobstermen count on earning a lot of money and landing a lot of lobster, but "the price is bad and getting worse."
"The prices are, from what I can tell, the lowest they've been in almost two decades," said Lapointe. "Think about just the cost of living compared to two decades ago."