The traps and gear are being overhauled, soon to be piled on commercial fishing wharves and loaded aboard fishing boats from Eastern Passage through to Digby County, ready for the shotgun start of the lobster fishing areas (LFAs) 33/34 fishery.
Weather permitting, the season is scheduled to open on Nov. 27 in both lucrative lobster fishing areas.
“Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) policy allows for up to two days of flexibility for LFAs 33 and 34 to open early if poor weather could impact the opening of the LFAs on their scheduled opening date. The decision on whether to advance or delay the opening date considers weather forecasts provided by Environment Canada, and advice from the LFA Advisory Committees,” said Debbie Buott-Matheson, communications manager with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
“This year, the LFA 34 Advisory Committee recommended against using the two-day flexibility for the LFA, so it will not be used this year. The LFA 33 Advisory Committee has chosen to continue using the two days of flexibility.”
While the date for the first pre-season weather call hasn’t been set, yet, the pre-season calls tend to begin the Wednesday or Thursday before the last Monday in November, said Buott-Matheson.
“Representatives from each LFA Advisory Committee participate in pre-season weather conference calls with staff from DFO, Canadian Coast Guard, as well as Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) to discuss Dumping Day. These calls provide the fishing industry the opportunity to recommend an early or delayed opening for the season based on safety concerns. On each call, the predicted weather and sea conditions are discussed. If the forecast calls for winds in excess of 26 knots, the opening is automatically delayed. However, if the forecast does not offer a definitive picture, then the Department, in consultation with industry representatives from each LFA, will make the final decision. Decisions for each LFA are independent of the other. The pre-season weather calls have been in place for approximately 23 years.”
As always, the safety of mariners and the protection of the marine environment are the top priorities for the Canadian Coast Guard, said Buott-Matheson.
“The annual opening in late November of LFAs 33–34 in southwest Nova Scotia involves thousands of harvesters and more than 1,500 small vessels. Ahead of opening day, the Canadian Coast Guard and its search and rescue partners — the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), Department of National Defence (DND), DFO’s Conservation and Protection and the Coast Guard Auxiliary — meet to coordinate their SAR postures,” said Buott-Matheson.
For the season opening, the Canadian Coast Guard “will pre-position a number of SAR vessels throughout the two fishing areas, and additional crews will be brought in for opening day. The vessels will also provide detailed weather information to Halifax Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS),” said Buott-Matheson.
“RCAF will have crews and aircraft on standby between 0600 AST and 1600 AST on opening day. There will be multiple Fisheries and Oceans Canada/ Canadian Coast Guard (DFO/CCG) vessels and patrol aircraft in the area prior to the opening able to assist SAR whenever required. A number of Coast Guard Auxiliary vessels will be in the area. The majority of these vessels participate in the lobster fishery and have a limited response capability due to loaded lobster traps on their own vessels.”
The latest Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) Science Response for 2022 shows the American lobster stocks in LFAs 33 and 34 remain in the healthy zone, said Buott-Matheson.
“This science advice is provided to DFO fisheries management. In LFA 34, the primary indicator of stock status is commercial biomass from four fishery independent surveys. In LFA 33, we rely on commercial catch per unit effort as our primary index of biomass,” she said.
“Lobster landings, as well as other indices of stock biomass, increased between 2009/2010 and 2015/2016 to the highest levels ever recorded. Since 2015/16, decreases in both landings and biomass indices have been observed. The data for 2022/2023 is still being received. DFO science indicates that there are several factors impacting the lobster stocks including climate change in the Bay of Fundy/Gulf of Maine and changes in commercial fishing pressure. The department has established an indicator for commercial fishing pressure and a maximum acceptable removal rate. Removals by the commercial fishery in both LFA 33 and LFA 34 have been below their respective maximum removal rate.”
Buott-Matheson said the department’s science programming and processes ensure that fisheries management has the science data, analysis and advice needed to monitor the health of fish stocks and ensure the sustainable management of Canada’s fisheries.
Market-wise going into the fall, Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, said in general, the live market has been steady and has returned to pre-pandemic behaviour.
“There is concern about the impact of the release of effluent from the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan as it is changing consumer behaviour throughout Asia. We plan to focus our marketing messaging on the cold and clean nature of our waters in Canada in those markets,” said Irvine.
“The processed sector has had a tougher year with lacklustre demand in key markets like the U.S. and Europe after the price correction of 2022 in all products including lobster meat, raw tails and whole in-shell products. The impact of high interest rates, inflation and uncertainty continues to impact high value proteins like lobster as consumers trade down at retail and in restaurants,” said Irvine.
There are a total of 678 lobster licence holders in LFA 33 and 978 in LFA 34. According to preliminary statistics, combined, LFA 33 and 34 licence holders had landings of 26,980 tonnes in 2021–2022, generating a landed value of approximately $625 million.
Preliminary statistics show that LFA 34 licence holders had landings of 19,642 tonnes in 2021–2022, generating a landed value of approximately $448 million. LFA 33 licence holders had landings of 7,338 tonnes in 2021–2022, generating a landed value of approximately $176 million.
In 2021–2022, 55 per cent of the total inshore lobster landing weights in the Maritimes Region were from LFAs 33 and 34.
“Seasonal reported landings of lobster in southwest Nova Scotia have doubled since the late 1990s, due in part to good environmental conditions and cooperative efforts to improve conservation within the industry,” said Buott-Matheson.
In 2022, the lobster fishery in the Maritimes Region accounted for around 45 per cent of the total Canadian landings of lobster. In 2022, the lobster fishery made up 55 per cent of the total landed value for all fisheries in the Maritimes Region.
“As always, DFO will continue to work with the Canadian Coast Guard, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, and other partner agencies to monitor fishing activity. We wish all harvesters a safe season,” said Buott-Matheson.
Newly minted Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Kent Smith also had well wishes for LFA 33 and 34 harvesters going into the season.
“I wish the harvesters in lobster fishing areas 33 and 34 a safe Dumping Day — and a successful season, said Minister Smith. “Today, fishing is a safer job than it’s ever been. We’ve come a long way in Nova Scotia. It’s not by luck or by accident — but through the dedication of many hard-working partners.
“The economy of our rural and coastal communities depends on the safety of our fishery. I know that many families throughout Nova Scotia rely on the safety of fish harvesters. A safe day on the water means their loved ones come home when the work is done. Harvesters work hard to put a roof overhead and food on the table, and although that is important, they matter most of all in their lives off the water.”