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Most Lobsters Caught In San Diego Wind Up On Chinese Plates

Spiny lobsters sit inside of a crate at Apex Wild Seafood in San Diego, Oct. ...

Credit: Matt Hoffman/KPBS

Above: Spiny lobsters sit inside of a crate at Apex Wild Seafood in San Diego, Oct. 8, 2018.

In San Diego, spiny lobsters are caught right off the coast — but finding one to buy can be a challenge.

"Even a lot of people local don’t even really know we have this species of lobsters," said Apex Wild Seafood owner David Schulken. "Because not that much of it gets sold here."

The price of a locally-caught spiny lobster is much higher than a Maine lobster imported from the East Coast.

"Retail price for spiny's is around $30 a pound," Schulken said. "And retail for Maine lobster somewhere between $12 and $15 a pound."

Spiny lobsters are easy to tell from Maine lobsters because they are missing a stand-out feature.

"Here in the U.S. people think more of Maine lobsters with the claws in their mind," Schulken said.

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Spiny lobsters are also known to have larger tails than lobsters from Maine.

"The average size is about 1 and 1/4 pound," Schulken said of spiny lobsters. He said they can even get up to three pounds, sometimes larger.

Schulken sells wholesale and he said his main buyer is China — where people are willing to pay extra for lobsters.

"Probably 98, 99 percent goes to Asia," Schulken said. "And one or two percent stays here in the U.S."

Schulken says China has been a major buyer of San Diego lobsters for the last decade. Locally, Seaside Market in Cardiff-by-the Sea has been buying spiny lobsters for years.

"We like to embrace the local product during the season, October through March," said Seaside Market meat and seafood manager Andrew Brailsford. "It’s important to support the local fisherman in an industry that’s just right off our coast here."

Seaside Market also carries the more well-known Maine lobsters throughout the year.

Recently all lobster from the U.S. heading into China have been hit with tariffs.

"All seafood imports from the United States there is now a 25 percent tariff that China has put into place starting July 6," Shulkin said.

In return, Shulkin said prices for lobsters off San Diego lobsters docks are down about 25 percent, compared to last year. Schulken hopes lower wholesale prices will attract more local buyers.

"We’re hoping that Americans can develop the taste for it and be willing to pay a higher price for a better quality product," Schulken said, "and also support our local fisherman. Our local fisherman are hard working — they’re small operations."

Commercial lobster season is officially underway in San Diego but one seafood distributor said even though the lobsters are being caught off our coast, most of them are sold to Asian countries.

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