Data showed US lobster exports to China in the first half of 2019 dropped by 80% compared to the same period in 2018. Credit: Bangor Daily News.

Lobster dealers in Maine, long known for their rich and historic tradition in lobstering, can’t wait to restart exports to China, as part of the phase-one economic deal between the two countries that came into effect on Feb. 14.

“I hope to resume business with China soon,” said Hugh Reynolds, a lobster dealer from the northeastern US town of Stonington, Maine.

According to the deal, China promises to purchase more agricultural products from the United States, and lobster is highlighted in the sector, China Daily reported.

Having been in the industry for more than 20 years, Reynolds’ company, Greenhead Lobster, is one of the largest lobster wholesalers in Stonington, the report said.

“Our Stonington, Maine Lobsters are fresh caught by local fishermen, delivered daily to the Greenhead Docks, promptly prepared, packed and shipped,” the company said.

His Chinese partners in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and many more cities loved his products, the report said.

More than 200 boats used to go out lobstering for Greenhead Lobster every day, with an annual harvest of 10 million pounds of live lobsters, of which more than 30% had been shipped to China, the report said.

Reynolds remembered that in July 2018, China imposed 25% additional tariff on imported US lobsters in response to the US threat of an additional 25% tariff on Chinese imports worth about US$50 billion.

“That’s when all of our exports to China stopped,” he told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.

Many wholesalers like Greenhead Lobster faced the same difficult situation, the report said.

China imported about US$128 million worth of live lobsters from the United States in 2017, according to WISERTtrade, a database that tracks international trade.

Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association, said China accounted for 15% to 20% of the export value of US lobsters at the time, the report said.

Data showed US lobster exports to China in the first half of 2019 dropped by 80% compared to the same period in 2018, the report said.

There were roughly 4,500 licensed lobster catchers in the state of Maine and about 10,000 to 12,000 people are directly employed in the industry in June 2018. But some lobster dealers in Maine had to lay off workers to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, business is booming in Canada, where cargo planes are flying out of Halifax to China. Canadian fishermen catch the same species of lobster as American lobstermen do, who are based mostly in Maine, the report said.

Reynolds said for the past one year and a half, US lobster industry not only lost export volume to China, but also import volume from Canada — something he had never seen in his whole career.

Now that Canada has taken most of the US share and the whole supply chain has been shuffled, it will not be easy to get it back, Reynolds said.