HomeOpinionHarvesters Asked to Vote on Their Future and That of Lobsters

Harvesters Asked to Vote on Their Future and That of Lobsters

Speaking on Canada’s relationship with the United States, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau famously said, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

Once again, the elephant to the south has let out a grunt that will see southern Nova Scotia lobster harvesters being asked to vote on a matter that could affect their very livelihood and the answer should be a no-brainer.

In response to the United States increasing the minimum legal carapace size of lobster that can be caught, cold or exported to the country from 82 millimetres to 84 millimetres by January 2025 and to 86 millimetres by January 2027, Nova Scotia harvesters are being asked if they would like to follow suit.

This loonie-sized difference in carapace size, if not adhered to by the Canadian lobster industry, could add up to plenty more than a loonie.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans estimates that anywhere from 10 to 30 per cent of lobsters that had historically sold to the U.S. could be nixed by 2027. Were this four-millimetre tolerance change in effect in 2022, the $545 million in live lobster shipments would have been cut drastically — anywhere from $54 million to $163.5 million less.

This, alone, should have harvesters taking a hard look at what’s best for the industry. While the decision to throw back 20 per cent of one’s catch to appease the U.S. may seem hasty, intentionally allowing loads of lobster to be blocked at the border of our largest trading partner seems the more foolhardy option.

Falling in line with the U.S. may be in the best interest of the lobsters, too. The prevalence of young lobster in Nova Scotia, according to DFO, has waned in recent years. This decision could make the increase in minimum size both economically and environmentally prudent.

Landings in southern Nova Scotia have fallen, especially in LFA 34. According to DFO Biologist Adam Cook in an interview with CBC, landings in LFA 34 decreased by 4,379 tonnes from the 2021–2022 season to the 2022–2023 season — clocking in at a value of over $140 million. He said that given this trend, the lobster stock could further decline into the cautious zone, unless conservation measures are taken.

“But we’re not there yet. That’s the best way to put it,” Cook told CBC News.

The “yet” in that statement sticks out like a sore thumb. Harvesters know all too well what can happen if calls for conservation go unheeded. With a $1 billion industry in the balance, putting smaller lobster back in the water to give them an opportunity to grow, and more importantly breed, may not be a bad idea.

So, as 979 license holders in the area go to cast their vote this spring, they should ask themselves: Can they rely on Canada’s other trading partners (i.e. China) to pick up America’s “slack?” More importantly, can they take the warning signs their decreased landings have telegraphed lightly?