HomeIndustryChallenging Lobster Season Wraps up in SWNS

Challenging Lobster Season Wraps up in SWNS

Another lobster season is in the books for lobster fishing areas (LFAs) 33 and 34.

The six-month season closed on May 31 with a shore price of $10/pound.

“As we reflect upon the fall, winter and spring lobster fishery in LFAs 33 and 34, it was in many respects challenging,” says Leo Muise, executive director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance.

“All things considered, we may be entering a period of significant transition.”

After a two-day delay due to weather, the season opened on Dec. 1, 2021, with lobster buyers paying $11/pound at the wharf when the consensus suggested the price should be $8/pound, says Muise.

A Cape Sable Island fisherman holds the bowline as a fishing vessel comes into port at West Head to offload lobster traps as the LFA 34 lobster season comes to a close. Kathy Johnson photo

“This was entirely due to extreme competition among buyers and the trend continued from January through the very end of the season on May 31. The harvesters gained from this competition, which is terrific, however in many instances the higher pricing could not be passed on to the marketplace. In early March, the shore price peaked at $17.50/pound and clients the world over were resisting the extraordinary price levels and seeking some sort of an explanation. In some markets, clients began to delist lobster due to the price pressures and these trends are clearly not helpful to the industry as a whole,” says Muise.

“From mid-March until late May, the market has been more challenged. Exporters were confronting severe lockdown situations in mainland China due to COVID-19. Inflationary impacts are growing around the world, but most particularly in America and European sales were diminished by the impacts from the invasion of Ukraine. On top of all other factors, there was less air freight capacity to Europe and Asia than in any recent spring. These numerous issues meant that worldwide demand for Nova Scotia lobster has lately been about 50 per cent of normal. Margins have also been the most limited in recent memory. The boat price in Southwest Nova bottomed out at $10/pound in May and by all accounts that was a price which did not allow for current profits.”

The FV Paisley Jean steams into the Lower Woods Harbour wharf with a load of lobster traps to offload. Kathy Johnson photo

Muise said as an industry “we now have to hope that lobsters placed in storage from the spring season will be more valuable in July and August and that COVID-19 will finally come under control in Asia. A rebound in sales volumes at higher prices is very much what most industry participants are counting on later in the summer. Whether this happens or not is very much up in the air at the moment. The risk preventing normal international trade has grown considerably and we struggle to confidently predict the future.”

The wide range of inflationary pressures have damaged the business model of harvesters, dealers, processors, exporters and a whole host of community and regional service providers, says Muise.

“The cost of a litre of gas or diesel may be the single most impactful cost for all of them.”

The seafood sector like most others is also struggling with a significant lack of human resources, says Muise.

Lobster traps are stacked on the East Pubnico wharf as the LFA 34 fishery winds down for another season. Kathy Johnson photo

“Companies in the seafood sector are struggling to find sufficient numbers of employees throughout the province. There is a growing need for temporary foreign workers and an obvious need for us to recruit more of our youth into a now dynamic seafood sector. Our existing employees have performed exceptionally well over the course of the last two years given the circumstances we are facing. Fortunately, many companies have dramatically ramped up COVID-19 protocols and are introducing more automation in their facilities to increase efficiency and safety.”

According to preliminary statistics from DFO, LFA 34 fishers landed 20,270 tonnes of lobster with a landed value of $375,825,000 during the 2020/21 season; 20,907 tonnes valued at $361,619,000 for the 2019/20 season; and landings of 20,443 tonnes worth $365,283,000 for 2018/19.

In LFA 33, landings of 7,125 tonnes with a landed value of $138,963,000 were tallied for the 2020/21 season, and in 2019/20, 6,345 tonnes with a landed value of $112,636,000.

There are 1,662 license holders in LFA 33 (Eastern Passage to Baccaro, Shelburne County) and LFA 34 (Baccaro, Shelburne County to Burn’s Point, Digby County).