By Jim DeFede

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In an upscale portion of Hong Kong, the Boat Dweller Restaurant is renowned for its live seafood.

Tanks showcase the freshest offerings from around the world – but few items on the menu are likely to capture a diner’s attention or have the appeal of the Florida Spiny Lobster.

With one of the fastest growing economies, and an exploding middle class that extends onto the mainland, the Chinese have developed a taste for the better things in life – and Florida lobster is surely one of them.

For the lobster, this was the culmination of a 9,000 mile journey – a journey that in recent years has transformed the commercial fishing industry in Florida.

Before the Chinese started buying their lobsters, the fishermen of the Florida Keys were getting just $3 a pound for their catch. Boat captains from Key West to Miami were struggling to survive. By 2010 and 2011, Chinese buyers had driven up the price to as high as $24 a pound.

Today the price has settled to $10 to $14 a pound.

“Thank God for the Chinese,” said Gary Nichols, a lobster fisherman based on Conch Key. “We sure import a lot of things from China and people complain, `Oh, it’s Chinese made.’ Well if it wasn’t for the Chinese right now I’d be getting three or four dollars a pound for lobster instead of $12 or $13 a pound for lobster.”

Not everyone is celebrating. The Chinese demand for lobster has left restaurants from Key West to Miami struggling to keep Florida lobster on their own menus.

“Who it was not good for was some of the companies that had been around for a while buying lobster for many, many years like my family business and others that have been around for a long time,” said Manuel Prieguez, who has been in the business of buying lobsters since 1993. “That someone who lives in Miami can’t go to a restaurant, can’t go to a market and buy a Florida lobster – I don’t think that’s a good thing.”

Catch the entire 30 minute CBS4 Special Report: The Business of Lobster on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. on CBS Miami.  

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