Now on the menu in Beijing for Lunar New Year: lots and lots of American lobster. Exports of US lobster to China have rocketed in the past few years, largely to satisfy the appetites of the country's growing middle class, to whom a steamed, whole crustacean - flown in live from the United States - is not just a festive delicacy and a good-luck symbol but also a mark of prosperity. That's good news for Maine, the nation's No1 lobster state, where the boom has put more money in the pockets of lobstermen and kept shippers and processors busy during the usually slack midwinter months. For Stephanie Nadeau, owner of The Lobster Co, a wholesaler in Arundel, Maine, the demand has meant 14-hour nights spent stuffing wriggling lobsters into crates to reach China in time for the Lunar New Year, which begins tomorrow. She sends 45 tonnes a week to China this time of year. "There's lots of orders, lots of demand right now - it is a race to get them there for Chinese New Year," Nadeau said. On the other side of the world, every day at 9am, the Auspicious Garden restaurant in Beijing receives 800 lobsters that have just crossed the Pacific aboard a cargo plane. In the evening, hundreds of diners fill the two-story restaurant in the gigantic Pangu Seven Stars Hotel for a nearly US$80 all-you-can-eat buffet with the New England specialty as the main attraction. Xu Daqiang, a 35-year-old businessman who was at the restaurant for the first time on a romantic date with his girlfriend, said food-safety concerns in China make him choose expensive high-class restaurants where he can find imported seafood. Cao Lijun, a 24-year-old Shanghai resident celebrating her friend's birthday in a party of four, alluded to lobster's reputed aphrodisiac properties when she said with a half-laugh: "How to say it? It makes my husband healthier. Really, this is what we say, because it is high in protein." New England lobstermen have recorded epic catches in recent years and are grateful for the business from the world's second-largest economy. Maine, which accounts for 80 per cent of all US lobster, hauled in more than 113,000 tonnes in 2012-13, the highest two-year total since records began in the 1800s.