The loss of the Chinese market for live lobster due to the coronavirus this winter has caused major losses for the seafood industry in southwestern Nova Scotia.
“There’s been so much money lost its going to be hard to rebound from this one,” said Lockeport lobster dealer Mike Cotter, owner of Cotter’s Ocean Products.
“It’s going to take some time. I don’t care you are in this industry right now, everybody has gotten hurt, including ourselves.”
The loss of the Chinese live market came swiftly and unexpectedly at the end of January, sending the $10.50/pound shore price downwards to $7/pound and leaving a lot of inventory unsold.
“It’s not just southwestern Nova Scotia, it’s global,” said Cotter, adding the situation has had notable impacts on both the Alaskan crab and Australian lobster industries as well.
The situation also depressed the European market, said Cotter.
“We have not put a lobster in a box for Europe or Asia since Jan. 20,” he said. “Some European customers are taking product. My customers are saying we don’t know where this price is going to settle (and) don’t want to take product and the price crash again.”
With product going primarily to the processing sector, Cotter said his plant workers lost probably 75 per cent of their hours during the month of February.
“Normally we’d be packing, grading and tubing lobsters. Now we’re just buying them and turning them over in the crate.”
With lobster fishing areas throughout the Maritimes set to open in April and May, “if this is not settled in China by then, that’s when the panic and chaos is going to be,” said Cotter.
Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada (LCC) said a working group from the harvesting and live shipping/processors sectors has been meeting every week to review the status of the issue and its impact on the lobster sector.
He said the LCC will be “implementing our marketing strategy for 2020 that involves activities in Europe and China as well as developing trade materials, photos, videos and other assets for our exporters to use in all markets.”
Typically, there is fairly good demand on the local and Canadian markets during the summer months, said Irvine. “However, export prices have recently been at record highs which has dissuaded domestic consumption to some degree.”
Since 2017, Canadian exports of live lobster to China has more than tripled in value and volume. In 2017, 172,776,433 kgs of lobster worth $8,363,205 was exported. In 2018, 257,324,773 kgs, valued at $14,142,409 and in 2019, 456,324,998 kgs, with an export value of $26,183,590.
For the same time period, live lobster exports to the United States have ranged from 517,837,912 kgs to 518,039,686 kgs, with an export value between $23,645,440 and $27,906,842.
In total, Canada exported 1,162,194,863 kgs of live lobster to some 56 countries in 2019, with a value of $59,419,126.