After a lacklustre 2022/23 season, industry stakeholders in southwestern Nova Scotia were taking a cautious approach as they readied for the start of the LFA (lobster fishing area) 33/34 fishery, scheduled to open Nov. 27, weather permitting.
“This year especially after the spring we had everybody is keeping their expenses low, working their numbers over. It was a really hard spring. Not many lobsters. The price wasn’t good. People are watching their bottom line a little bit closer, cutting back on expenses. If they don’t need it, they are looking to get by with as little as they can get by with,” said Tommy Amirault, president of the Coldwater Lobster Association.
The 2022/23 LFA 33/34 season opened with a $7 shore price, compared to the record-setting opening shore price in 2021/22 of $10 plus a pound. The 2022/23 season closed at $8.30 being paid wharfside.
“It was the kind of price where it’s really hard to make things work,” said Amirault. “It was a really slow spring everywhere. This fall, a lot of people are being careful I think, to try and make do with what they’ve got.”
In LFA 35, where the season opened on Oct. 12, harvesters are getting between $9 to $10 per pound this year, compared to an opening shore price of $6 to $7 per pound last year.
“It seems like the buyers are a little more optimistic this year,” said Amirault. “Last year, snow crab was like an albatross around everybody’s neck right from the get go. I think this year with some of the snow crabs cleaned up, maybe the buyers are a little more free with their lines of credit.”
Kris Vascotto, executive director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance, said the price will be a balance of inventory versus markets versus landings.
“The big variable is what landings are going to do. Caution is in the air. It’s one of those situations where everything is not looking absolutely excellent but at the same time it’s not looking absolutely horrible. The strength of landings is going to be key,” said Vascotto.
“Right now, we’re just waiting to see what happens,” said Vascotto. “Pressures, whether it be labour, inventory or markets, are all there. Is the market willing to play a reasonable price for the product… are people willing to put their money on the table to buy the product? I can’t say how its going to go. If you have a year of very high landings and have inventory sitting there waiting to go, that has its own impact just that alone.”
On the flip side, there could be low inventory and high demand.
The general hope is for a prosperous season for everybody from the harvesters to the processors, everybody involved,” said Vascotto.
According to preliminary statistics from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), LFA 33 and 34 landings totalled 26,980 tonnes in 2021–2022, generating a landed value of approximately $625 million, accounting for 55 per cent of the total inshore lobster landings in the Maritimes Region.
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.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2022, 22,760,819 kg of live lobster were exported to the U.S., valued at $545,046,367. In 2021, live lobster exports to the U.S. totalled 21,706,325 kg, valued at $522,690,653.
Live lobster exports to China in 2022 weighed in at 23,161,620 kg, valued at $452,023,902. In 2021, 19,684,693 kg of live lobster was exported to China, worth $454,791,828.
Seafood cargo exports from Halifax Standfield International Airport, primarily live lobster, accounted for more than half of the total $665 million in cargo export value in 2022.
There are a total of 678 lobster licence holders in LFA 33 and 978 in LFA 34.