HomeOpinionFrom Bad, to Worse to Hopefully Better

From Bad, to Worse to Hopefully Better

People often say, that when it rains, it pours.

While there has been a dark cloud over the Nova Scotia lobster fishery for some months now, the sun must shine eventually.

As far back as the start of the 2021/22 season, lobster fishing areas (LFAs) 33 and 34 were facing challenges from weather to a large uptick in the price of bait. High winds ended up delaying the season opening for two days and while prices in the $11 per pound range seemed like a fair trade-off for the delay, higher input costs for fuel and bait were quick to offset that.

“Even haddock trimmings are over $1/pound,” said East Pubnico fisherman Tommy Amirault, president of the Coldwater Lobster Association. “It’s the same old yarn. Lobster prices are higher but everything corresponding with it is higher.”

By the fall of 2022, Atlantic Canadian lobster was facing challenges in almost every market from Europe, to the United States, to China. Animal welfare laws in Europe, marine mammal protection regulations in the U.S. and new labelling regulations in China bogged down many producers in the region, making lobster harder to move to these key markets. These factors, combined with harsh weather conditions, made for a challenging season all around for Nova Scotia’s most lucrative lobster fishery, even with shore prices coming in between $15.50–16.50 per pound by the end of February.

“There’s no lobster being caught,” said Lockeport buyer Mike Cotter. “The weather has been bad. They’re lucky to get a pound to a pot.”

Fast-forward to the 2022/23 season and the state of affairs in LFA 33 and 34 had gone from troublesome to plain old bad.

Bad market conditions, lower landings, high input costs and shore prices between $7 to $8 per pound coalesced in the perfect storm of misfortune for Southwest Nova Scotia.

“Inflation, diminished markets and Mother Nature are all contributing factors. Buyers, processors and harvesters are all facing the highest ever operating costs,” said the executive director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance, Leo Muise. “Therefore, buyers had to establish a buying price point at the wharf that would allow harvesters to operate and pay their bills. However, that price also had to be reflective of a volatile market like never seen before.”

Then, as the season was coming to a close, more than 24,000 hectares of Shelburne Country succumbed to the raging Barrington Lake wildfire that began four days before the end of the season on May 27, 2023. The fire, exacerbated by high winds and dry conditions, went on to become the largest in the province’s history.

Once again, lobster harvesters were greatly impacted. Many harbours that resided in evacuation zones couldn’t be accessed and over 100 fishing boats were displaced from their home ports as the fire raged on. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), in turn, extended the LFA 33 fishing season to June 9 and the LFA 34 season to June 2 to allow the delayed harvesters to get their gear ashore.

Nova Scotia, as a whole, has epitomized the “when it rains, it pours,” adage. But with the LFA 33–34 opening once again looming on the horizon, something has got to give. Weather-abiding, the catches seen in other provinces during their seasons might indicate some inkling of hope for Southwest Nova harvesters.

Take, for example, the strong start to LFA 25 in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

“Like any fishing season, you have to wait until the end to really make a good analysis of the season, but from what I’m hearing this has been a record year as of today,” said Martin Mallet, the executive director of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union.

Or the strong showing for lobster in Newfoundland and Labrador reported by the Secretary-Treasurer of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union, Jason Spingle.

“Based on my preliminary conversations with harvesters, this is going to be a record year for landings,” said Spingle. “I’ve been with the union almost 25 years now… I know harvesters, particularly on the Northern Peninsula this year, had more on their opening haul than they would have had for their whole season 15 years ago.”

While it remains to be seen how the weather and the market could affect the trajectory of the upcoming LFA 33–34 season, harvesters should hold out hope that as we pass again into a new year, their luck could turn around.

In the nature of their occupation, harvesters have become masters at weathering adversity. The current adversities we see today will pass, too.

As the writer Timber Hawkeye puts it, “You can’t calm the storm. So, stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.”