HomeOpinionA Harbinger of Things to Come?

A Harbinger of Things to Come?

Harvesters in lobster fishing areas (LFAs) 33 and 34 finally have a chance to catch their collective breath and reflect on the season that was.

And it was certainly a season of literal ups and downs and not just with the heavy swells and weather.

After a two-day delay due to weather, the season opened on Dec. 1, 2021, with lobster buyers paying $11/pound at the wharf. The six-month season closed on May 31 with a shore price of $10/pound.

However, in early March, the shore price peaked at a record or near-record of $17.50/pound.

But despite the spikes in prices, most stakeholders, notably buyers, called it a challenging season.

Exporters were confronted by severe lockdown situations in mainland China due to COVID-19. Inflationary impacts grew around the world. American and European sales were further diminished by the impacts from the invasion of Ukraine.

And on top of all other factors, there was less air freight capacity to Europe and Asia than in any recent spring.

Thus, as was reported in the Atlantic Fisherman, these numerous issues meant that for a period of time this year, worldwide demand for Nova Scotia lobster was about 50 per cent of normal.

The lobster industry here is not facing these challenges in isolation. Our fishing brethren/competitors south of the border are also facing the same market obstacles and more.

On top of continued uncertainty in international seafood markets, harvesters in Maine also have new, restrictive conservation measures to contend with.

In a continuing effort to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale in the waters off Maine, fishermen are being inundated with a series of new rules.

Empty lobster crates are taken from a live lobster storage facility in Shag Harbour and loaded onto a transport truck.
Kathy Johnson photo

The first one came in the winter, when a nearly 1,000-square-mile area of fishing grounds off Maine was closed for several months to traditional lobster fishing gear.

Fishermen now also have to attach plastic links to their trap lines that are engineered to break under 1,700 pounds of pressure — strong enough, ideally, to pull a line of lobster traps up from the ocean floor, but weak enough that an entangled right whale could break free without injury.

Vessels fishing farther offshore now also must add more traps per line, to reduce the overall amount of vertical rope in the water. It’s a practice called trawling up.

As these new rules come into place, fishermen in the Gulf of Maine, as well as here, are still being pressured to look at ropeless gear technology.

Various versions of this tech are being developed, both in the U.S. and Canada. Most rely on using GPS or satellite trackers to mark and find the location where a trap or net was set and an acoustic signal to trigger a floatation system that brings a rope or the gear itself to the surface.

While many harvesters are trying to remain optimistic about the new technology, for now, many that have experimented with it say it has potential, but there is much work left to be done as it is currently expensive, time-consuming and prone to failure.

To say the centuries-old lobster fishery in Maine is in a state of transition would be an understatement.

But what about here?

While the lobster industry in Southwest Nova Scotia does not have the right whale-related conservation measures to contend with now, who knows what the future will hold. Are the changes taking place in Maine a harbinger of things to come for lobster fishermen here? Only time will tell. But you can be rest assured that harvesters here, north of the border, will be watching with great interest as these conservation measures continue to evolve and be rolled out in Maine.