As the commercial lobster fishery in lobster fishing areas (LFAs) 33 and 34 begins to wind down for the season, a strong shore price supported by low inventory and a world-wide market demand has the industry optimistic.
“The spring fishery in lobster and a range of other seafood species looks certainly more promising than one year ago,” said Leo Muise, executive director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance.
“Some of the highest pricing ever have been paid in a variety of species, most notably lobster and snow crab. This has been terrific for the fishing community and we have tried our best to pass these higher prices on to the market as a whole. As more and more boats come on the water in the spring period, it is inevitable that species pricing at the wharf will diminish somewhat over time. However, we know there is a market, now much more in the retail sector as consumers worldwide have voted in favour of continuous supply of seafood from Nova Scotia in particular. The dining experience may have shifted from restaurants and cafés and cruise ships and so forth to the home, but Nova Scotian premium seafood very much remains on the menu and highly popular. That much we now know for sure.”
Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, said “despite grave worries about the lobster market impact of the pandemic a year ago, a combination of factors led to the Canadian lobster sector managing our way through the last year fairly well,” but it came at a price to both harvesters and exporters.
The total export value for all Canadian lobster products dropped by $504 million dollars (2020 vs 2019) and volume of all lobster products exported dropped by 13,384 metric tonnes.
“Adjustments to seasons, labour shortages in the plants and an unknown market led to less lobster being harvested, processed and stored for live sales. This led to lower shore prices during the peak production period in May and June which allowed marketers to sell a significant amount of lobster at retail and e-commerce in North American, Europe and Asia. A subsequent shortage of lobster since the fall and a stronger than expected economic bounce back has pushed up prices for live and processed lobster products in all markets,” said Irvine.
Going into April, fishermen in LFA 33 and 34 were getting $12/pound for lobster. The shore price had peaked at $15/pound during March.
Going into the spring of 2021, the industry faces many questions, said Irvine “including how quickly the foodservice/cruise ship/casino markets will rebound in our key markets and if the retail/e-commerce sector will be able to continue to feature lobster products as prices increase due to strong demand worldwide.”
Irvine noted there are also other challenges that worry the entire value chain including high ocean freight rates and availability of containers, air freight availability, increased inspections and customs scrutiny in China, a strong Canadian dollar, labour challenges and the resolution of trade disputes between the United States and the European Union/China.
“Most will agree that 2021 is more like a typical year in the lobster sector — filled with optimism and tempered by significant challenges that must be monitored and managed by all,” said Irvine.
Muise said the Alliance monitors worldwide markets and worldwide COVID-19 rates daily and hope for the best.
“We now have experienced COVID-19 for over a year and we have adjusted to it as well as we possibly can both in the seafood facilities of this province and in the worldwide marketplace. Many people in the world look at Nova Scotia seafood as a source of luxury food that is both safe and healthy,” said Muise.
“Operationally, we have changed so many aspects of the production cycle — greater social distancing, mask wearing, in-plant separation and limited exposure to the outside community. All of these aspects in seafood production and processing have allowed our sector to survive an otherwise difficult year and look ahead with some optimism. As more and more vaccines roll out, both here in Nova Scotia and in the rest of the world, we expect the level of optimism to increase proportionately. Our members and their employees have put their best foot forward over the last year, and we are confident they can do so once again which will make for a successful spring and summer.”