LFA 34 fishermen check their trapline near the Cape Sable Island Causeway in late January. Kathy Johnson photo

It has been steady as she goes for the first two months of the southwest Nova fishery in lobster fishing areas (LFA) 33 and 34.

“It’s been very steady,” said Lockeport buyer Mike Cotter of Cotter’s Ocean Products. “It hasn’t been a crazy season like normal years when there would be an $11/pound shore price, two days later it would be $13, then drop back down to $11. The whole month of January has been pretty steady,” both price and supply-wise.

Cotter said landings have been steady when the fishermen get out. “There’s no big trips coming in,” he said. “They are averaging a couple pounds to a pot which is good for this time of year. They’re getting out even though the weather’s been bad and it has been rough, they are still getting out two or three times a week.” 

Price-wise, the season opened on Nov. 30 in LFA 33 and on Dec. 8 in LFA 34 with an opening shore price between $7 and $7.25/pound and that went to $8/pound a week or so later. That’s where it’s stayed.

 “It’s stayed the same,” said Cotter. “It’s not up or down, adding most buyers are paying $8 to $8.25/pound, while there are a few in LFA 33 paying $8.50 per pound.

“Things are a little slow in northern China because of the virus,” said Cotter. “The market was a little tough there last week (late January) because we’ve only got China. Europe is closed down. The U.S. market is very, very slow. This week we’re anticipating it to increase a bit because of the Chinese New Year. We will be shipping this week and next week for the Chinese New Year so everybody is hoping sales will come up and the price will come up a bit this week. I think it will.”

Fishermen were also hoping to see an increase in the shore price.

“The price hasn’t moved since the first part of December which is a little bit disappointing,” said Bernie Berry, president of the Coldwater Lobster Association.

“We’re all hoping for a little bit more now that we are starting to get into the front edge of the Chinese New Year market. There’s usually a couple of weeks build-up. February is one of the biggest sales months (for lobster) after December. It even outstrips May. We’ve got the Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, the Super Bowl… we’re still holding out a little bit of hope” the price will go up a bit.

Fishing-wise, Berry said it’s been a normal January. “We’re in the double, triple set mode because of the weather which is just normal. Some of the longer soaks have been okay. The catches have been okay,” with indications and estimates that landings in LFA 34 are down somewhat maybe 15 to 20 per cent.

Crates are offloaded from a fishing boat in Shag Harbour in LFA 34 after a day on the fishing grounds. Kathy Johnson photo

“We don’t think there is nowhere near the amount of lobster being held this time of year that is normally held by buyers and fishers and that’s a direct reflection on what happened last year with COVID-19,” said Berry.

“COVID-19 is still a big player here. It’s a little different than last year, we’ve learned to work around it, but it is still affecting markets in Europe. China is still buying a pretty big volume of live market. In the U.S., even though it has shifted from food service to retail, there is a fair size market in the states now. There are enough markets to get rid of our product. It’s disappointing Europe is in the throngs of a second wave. That’s usually a very high-end market for us.”

As for water temperatures, up until Jan. 20 they have been well above normal temperatures, said Berry. “If we can get through February without having the weather completely crash on us, maybe we can have a  bit of an early uptake to the spring part of our season.”

The eight-day delay in the opening of the LFA 34 season due to weather was a record.

According to preliminary statistics from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), in 2019/20, a combined 26,195 tonnes of lobster were landed by LFA 33 and 34 licence holders, generating a landed value of approximately $451 million, accounting for 60 per cent of the total inshore lobster landings in the Maritimes Region.