HomeIndustryLFA 34 Licence Holders Voting on Lobster Measurement Increase

LFA 34 Licence Holders Voting on Lobster Measurement Increase

Lobster fishing area (LFA) 34 licence holders will be voting whether or not they are in favour of increasing the minimum lobster carapace size to coincide with the new U.S. measure coming into effect on Jan. 25, 2025.

“The logistics of how the vote will be undertaken will require a few weeks to sort out but the aim is to have license holders vote either prior to the season closing on May 31 or shortly thereafter,” said Heather Mulock, executive director of the Coldwater Lobster Association.

The minimum carapace size increase in the New England states from 82.5 mm to 84 mm was triggered by a 39 per cent decline in juvenile lobster in recent Gulf of Maine surveys. A second increase scheduled for Jan. 1, 2027, will up the minimum carapace size to 86 mm.

An information package was provided to LFA 34 port representatives and their associated port clusters to review prior to the LFA 34 district-wide vote on the U.S. carapace measure increase, said Mulock.

“The decision of a measurement increase is a tough but important one. A decision that will ultimately affect your industry and your fellow fishermen, one way or another. It is imperative that you talk amongst your fellow harvesters, your port reps and/or fishing association reps to discuss the measurement increase and what you, as a harvester (license holder), would like to do in the coming weeks/months,” reads the document.

“How Canada responds to this measure increase will be up to the harvesters. DFO does not have a ‘trigger mechanism’ in place to increase the legal lobster measurement size for sustainability. This decision will be up to licence holders. LFA 34 is now presented with two potential options: Implement the U.S. measurement increase coming into effect on Jan. 1, 2025 and 2027; or opt out of a measurement increase for the time being.

“Harvesters must consider the U.S. measure increase from a few different perspectives, including market implications, sustainability of our own stock (which, in recent years has become a growing concern amongst harvesters because of declining landings), and economics, both short-term and long-term. A measure increase would build in resiliency in our stock and the economic viability of our industry.”

It is estimated an increase in the LFA 34 minimum carapace size would affect 12–15 per cent of the catch based on best scientific information. The document notes that 56 per cent of LFA 34 landings take place by Dec. 31 of the season, based on a 10-year average.

If a measure increase to 84.0 mm was implemented on Jan. 1, it would affect approximately 44 per cent of the season’s catch. The increase to 84 mm on Jan 1, 2025 then would only affect 12–15 per cent of the remaining 44 per cent of landings for that season. The lobsters that would be returned to the water that spring would increase 13.5 per cent in weight and increase in carapace length 10–15 per cent to 90–95 mm during the molting process that summer and fall, meaning all those lobsters would be available to the commercial fishery in the fall of 2025. The same scenario would happen during the second increase in January 2027.

“Should LFA 34 choose not to adopt the measure increase, lobster buyers will not be permitted to export any lobster less than 84.0 mm (86.0 mm in 2027) into the U.S. Lobster will need to be sorted carefully to ensure undersized lobster do not cross the border which could lead to fines for the buyers/exporters. This “added work” of sorting on shore will affect the shore price to harvesters. Bonded shipments of lobster that have product that is under the new minimum U.S. measure will also not be permitted into the U.S. Other countries, like China, could pick up the “slack,” however, at what price? China is aware of the U.S. measure increase and will most likely capitalize on this by reducing their price of purchase for our product that would no longer be accepted into the U.S. In essence, China would be purchasing product that cannot be moved easily elsewhere. Another possible market for this size lobster would be the processors.”

A list of pros and cons are contained in the information package for harvesters to consider.

On the pro side: Maintain U.S. market access which accounts for 34 per cent of lobster exports; a sustainability measure; potential increase in shore price because most markets want somewhat of a larger lobster; short-term pain: the lobster between 82.5 and 84.0 mm that are returned to the water will be available for harvest the next season. With an increase to 86 mm that will increase our egg production by 43 per cent (For every 50,000 eggs released by female lobsters into the water only two eggs will survive to become a “legal size” lobster). New measure gauges could be ready in five to six weeks. A DFO variation order would be issued during the season to implement the increase.

On the con side: lose a portion of our U.S. live lobster market with few strong-hold markets to pick up this influx of product. The domestic market (Canada) will not absorb the 12–15 per cent surplus of product. Processors operate at reduced capacity during the winter months. While they would accept an increase in product from LFA 34, harvesters will be offered “processor” shore price and not live market shore price.

“The general feeling is pretty mixed,” said Mulock. “There is a lot to think about.”

Mulock said the association has reached out to First Nations communities with communal licences and the four First Nations who fish under the Kespukwitk moderate livelihood understanding as well.

“Commercial fish harvesters have been stewards of their resource for many, many, many years. We do need the support of our First Nation fellow fishermen as well to follow suit and appreciate the importance of this U.S. measure both from an economic and conservation perspective,” said Mulock.

Each respective LFA is having discussions on the impact to their fishery, including sustainability and economics.

The U.S. minimum size increases planned for 2025 and 2027 were the focus of a Lobster Council of Canada (LCC) meeting in Halifax on April 9.

The membership heard updates from Toni Kerns, Fisheries Policy Director from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission; Verna Docherty, Regional Senior Fisheries Management Officer and Adam Cook, Research Scientist from the Department of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, said Geoff Irvine, LCC executive director.

Following the regulatory, science and policy updates, LCC members shared their concerns and thoughts around potential impacts of the U.S. gauge changes in 2025, 2027 and in 2029, a change to the lobster trap escape vent size, said Irvine.

Reaction from industry was across the board and the impact largely unknown, said Irvine.

If the status quo is maintained, that could be positive for Canadian live shippers who compete in international markets with the U.S. However, due to increased volume, under 84 mm lobster from Canada could receive a lower price. For operational reasons, Canadian LFAs should consider a size increase if they produce a high volume of this sized lobster, was the opinion of one buyer at the meeting, said Irvine.

Questions and concerns were brought to the table. With more lobsters under 84mm to sell, will non-U.S. live markets take it? Will more be available for processing? Will there be additional costs for grading to a new measure? How will shore prices be impacted, depending on the breakdown of the catch and destination (processing or live sector)? Will a third size shore price emerge for lobster under 84 mm? What will be the impact to the processing sector of the changes to the Maine catch volume in the summer and fall that is imported for processing in Canada when there are minimal Canadian landings? What will be the impact to air freight operations with the end of “in bond” trucking to U.S. airports?

“At the moment the practice of sending lobster in bond to U.S. airports for export is technically not allowed. However, it is taking place and live shippers have found it to be an important way to get lobster to international markets. We will need to wait and see if there is any change to the regulations and the practice as the gauge increases roll out in the U.S.,” said Irvine.

The U.S. Magnuson-Stevens Act prohibits imports of whole live lobster smaller than the minimum possession size the U.S. industry can harvest. A draft addendum to the Act going before Congress recommends the minimum size increases should apply to imports.

Next steps from the LCC perspective is to continue to build a lobster size database using information from harvesters, buyers, live shippers and processors and DFO officials from all regions and share it with the lobster sector; monitor the status of the addendum consultations in the United States, encouraging all stakeholders to submit comments before June 3 and encourage the shore-side sector to develop potential new channels of distribution for under 84 mm live and frozen lobster.