Weather permitting, the commercial lobster fishery in Lobster Fishing Areas (LFA) 33 and 34 will open on Nov. 30 this year.
The largest lobster fishery in Canada, more than 4,000 fishermen will head to sea aboard the 979 licenced vessels in LFA 34 and 683 in LFA 33 for the six-month season.
Given the economic turmoil and uncertainty created by COVID-19, it is unlikely last year’s record-setting opening shore price of $8/pound will be matched this year.
“2020 will be remembered as possibly the most challenging year in the recent history of the Nova Scotia seafood business,” said Leo Muise, executive director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance.
By the end of January, the $10.50/pound shore price began to plummet with COVID-19 crashing market after market.
“Throughout the early days of COVID-19, matching product supply to market demand was difficult,” said Muise. “The market can change from week to week and sometimes day to day. Nothing in the world of seafood is ever certain. However, all things considered, seafood companies in Nova Scotia are trying to remain cautiously optimistic for the months ahead.”
During the spring and summer months, home consumer sales increased in North America, as did sales to Asia and Europe, said Muise, but “at greatly reduced prices compared to recent years,” adding the food service demand for live lobster “remains challenging.”
Going into the opening of the LFA 35 fishery on Oct. 14, “inventories of live lobster are temporarily lower than normal because most product was sold rapidly this summer over fears that COVID-19 would have an even further devastating effect on the marketplace,” said Muise.
What will take place in the marketplace this fall “remains a work-in-progress and will largely be dependent on the level and quality of supply as well as the intensity of COVID-19-based restrictions in key market countries,” said Muise.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also added to the complications in attracting and retaining workers for the seafood industry. “Finding seasonal workers during peak times in this industry has been a test for a few years now,” said Muise.
“Moreover, the programs that were intended to support workers have been exploited by some and have added even further to the difficulty.”
Muise said most processors report they routinely operated below capacity as a result of not having sufficient numbers of employees.
The compulsion to provide everyone with as safe a working environment as possible has required massive changes to the structure of most facilities, said Muise.
“The introduction of social distancing whenever possible and the mandatory use of additional personal protective equipment (PPE) can be expensive and sometimes difficult to achieve,” he said. “Fortunately, government assistance programs are to some extent easing the burden for those companies who can gain access to them.”