Lobster industry feeling impact in U.S.-China trade war

LONG ISLAND, Maine – The U.S. exported more than $142 million worth of lobster to China last year, up from about $108 million in 2016. But that number is expected to take a big hit after China roughly doubled tariffs on live U.S. seafood in retaliation of U.S. tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese imports last month.

The Trump administration is escalating the trade war between the world's two largest economies by slapping new tariffs on Chinese imports. The plan will impose a 25 percent tax on an additional $16 billion in Chinese goods starting Aug. 23. Industrial products like steam turbines and iron girders are targeted.

With China retaliating, America's lobster industry is feeling the impact.

Just after sunrise in the gulf of Maine, lobster fisherman Steve Train is preparing for the day's catch. Train has harvested lobster from these waters for over 40 years, a livelihood made viable, in part, because of trade relationships with countries like China where north Atlantic lobster is popular.

"It's going to hurt our market," Train said, adding, "We're making less every year than we did years ago and now we got another, something else hanging over our head."

In June, The trump administration announced a 25 percent tariff on Chinese goods. Beijing responded with its own 25 percent tariff on a list of goods that includes live lobster. At the same time, China has lowered its tariff on Canadian lobster imports to 7 percent, making them more attractive to Chinese buyers.

Stephanie Nadeau distributes the lobster caught by fishermen like Train. She said Chinese buyers used to account for 35 percent of her sales. But since the tariffs have came into effect, that market has virtually dried up.

"There are no lobsters going to mainland China," Nadeau said, adding, "They've stopped."

"Because the prices went up because of the tariffs?" Dahler asked.

"Yes. We have the identical product to Canada. My lobsters have a 25 percent tax, which, at a $2 difference, is an insurmountable difference," Nadeau said.

Maine currently produces more lobster than any other U.S. state or Canadian province, and for now, most of Train's lobster can still be sold domestically. But as the Trump administration takes aim at Chinese imports, many here feel that the lobster industry has become collateral damage.

"They've taken our business and I don't know how we'll ever get it back. The longer this goes on, the more difficult it will make it for us to resume our relationship with our customers," Nadeau said.