The Maine lobster bake -- a tradition that's been driven into virtual extinction by skyrocketing prices -- has found its way into the working man's back yard again.

The price of lobster -- a rare treat for even native Mainers -- has been dropping steadily since the end of June, and lobster now is cheaper in the store than beef.

"I don't know how the lobster fishermen feel about it," said Carroll Gooch, owner of Shackford and Gooch's Lobster Pound and Restaurant at Kennebunkport. "But the consumers aren't kicking about the price; they're buying it for cookouts once again."

At the end of July, Maine lobster was selling for anywhere between $1.55 to $1.99 a pound -- in some cases almost a dollar cheaper than at this time last year.

Maine lobstermen and retailers say the reason for the drop in price is an "unusually good" catch this summer, coupled with a significant drop in the Maine tourist industry.

"What has happened is that the number of lobsters being caught is up, and the demand is down," said Hale Whitehouse, a wholesaler from Cape Porpoise, a small fishing village on the southern Maine coast.

Last July, lobster was selling in Maine for about $3.25 a pound on the average. In some areas, the price was as high as $3.59 a pound.

But this year, retailers from Rockport to Kittery are reporting that the price to consumers has dipped below $2 a pound.

In Kennebunkport, which boasts a thriving fishing industry, lobster was being sold by retailers for $1.99 a pound. And farther north in Yarmouth, thr price was as low as $1.40 a pound.

One Maine lobster fisherman complained that "you're not making any money when you're fishing for less than $1.40 a pound. Another suggested that a limit be imposed on the catch this summer "because it's approaching the point where it's marginal to fish for lobster."

Allen Lord of Lord's Lobster Pound in Wells said the price of lobster "is going down all the time . . . I don't know when it's going to stop.

"I talked to a fisherman from Portland not too long ago, and they've got lobsters coming out of their ears," he said.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources noted that the lobster catch this year "is slightly ahead of last year's."

Although the price of lobster is expected to drop every year in Maine, it's more dramatic this year because of the smaller number of tourists in the state, industry officials said.

"There's not much you can do," said Kennebunkport's Whitehouse. "When you have more lobsters than the demand calls for, you're going to find some cheap prices."

And this year, for a change, native Mainers are treating themselves to a delicacy that normally appears on their menus only a few times a year.