When President Obama sits down Friday night for a state dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the second course will be a tribute to National Lobster Day – a portion of lobster poached in butter and served with leek rice noodle rolls.

Lobster from Maine, of course. And labeled as such on the menu.

The timing seems perfect, and it turns out there was some behind-the-scenes lobster boosterism going on. Maine’s independent Sen. Angus King put in a word for serving Maine lobster at the dinner because Sept. 25 is the crustacean’s new national day of recognition.

In August, King, Sen. Susan Collins and some of their New England colleagues persuaded the Senate to endorse a second national day of recognition for Maine’s No. 1 seafood export. The other national day is June 15.

If the Chinese leader is anything like his countrymen and women, he is a fan of lobster, particularly Maine lobster. The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative’s data on lobster exports to China show phenomenal growth in the past six years.

In 2009, the United States exported live and processed lobster valued at $2.1 million. By 2014, that number had shot up to $90.5 million. About 85 percent of the lobster exported by U.S. businesses is from Maine.


Matt Jacobson, executive director of the lobster collaborative, noted that the dollar value – the way U.S. Customs tracks the exports – isn’t the best way to quantify how much more the Chinese are eating lobster, since the price of lobster has fluctuated from about $2 a pound at the dock in 2010 to between $4 and $6 now.

Also, the cost of transportation factors into the dollar amount. “So it is not an apples-to-apples comparison,” Jacobson said.

But there’s no question that lobster has caught on there in a big way. About 10 percent of the Maine catch goes to export, and 5 to 8 percent of that goes to Asia, he said.

He doesn’t know who supplied the Maine lobster to the White House or the region of Maine where it was caught. White House security is a bit touchy about releasing such details, for safety reasons.

“So we may never know,” Jacobson said.

But it’s a major win for the state’s marketing.


“I’m not sure there could be a better marketing placement,” he said.

Jacobson said reports of what the Chinese delegation eats at the White House are likely to be relayed back to China in news coverage, including tales of those lobster tails.

“We couldn’t pay for that coverage,” Jacobson said.

As for why Chinese consumption of lobster has increased so radically, Jacobson said dealers in Maine have regularly heard from Chinese buyers that its popularity has a lot to do with being a status symbol, and because the color red is good luck in China,

No word yet on whether White House chef Anita Lo will be the one plating that tail in the shell.

King expressed his pride.

“Maine lobster is renowned across the globe as a delicious commodity, and at home, our lobstermen rightly consider it a source of pride,” he wrote. “We, as a state, can share in that pride knowing that our lobster will be served at the White House (Friday) night where it can be enjoyed by all, and, we hope, also play a small role in building on our relationship with China.”


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