An opening shore price of $6 to $7/pound in lobster fishing area (LFA) 35 in the Bay of Fundy, which opened on October 14, is proving to be challenging for harvesters.
“Fishermen are saying they are devastated by the price. It’s not even a break-even price,” says Colin Sproul, president of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association. “It’s not sustainable at that price.”
With the cost of fuel, bait, gear and boats “through the roof,” the season is proving to be extremely challenging for fishermen, said Sproul.
“I believe with the price today, we’re worse off now than we were in 2008 when the price was so bad” ($3.50/pound range), taking into consideration inflation and skyrocketing costs.
“It’s not a recipe for making money,” added Sproul. “I think everybody should be paying attention and the reason is this: because lobster is Nova Scotia’s biggest export worth billions of dollars and it’s going to sell on the market for half as much, while all other costs are skyrocketing. While that’s bad for Nova Scotians and Nova Scotia in general, it’s also indicative of a bigger problem. The question that needs asking is why does a fisherman in Yarmouth or Sydney or any point in between always get the exact same price for lobster in a free market economy? It seems clear someone is setting the price. The question is who and why, considering it’s illegal.”
Sproul said he realizes markets are depressed and demand is low, but pointed out the “price for live, high-quality, shippable lobster is the same as the price at the cannery and that shows a clear problem. There should be some discrepancy for high quality product because they are shipping at greater prices.”
“When you look at the price of lobster and the price of all other proteins which has skyrocketed, it really makes you wonder. I had a gentleman tell me today he is paying $15/pound for lobster to put in his lobster tank at his restaurant. There’s a disconnect there that has to be dealt with. Fishermen are just looking for a fair shake in a free market economy, but for a free market to work it has got to be free.”
On a positive note, the quality of the catch in LFA 35 has been very good, said Lockeport buyer Mike Cotter, estimating select lobsters have been accounting for 30 to 40 per cent of the catch “so it’s a great run. The market is not overly crazy, but stuff is moving a bit,” said Cotter.
Landings have been about on par with last year, said Sproul, and it has been a “pretty decent season for weather. The old guys used to say you never get all three; price, catch and weather.”
This time last year, the shore price was $12/pound in LFA 35. When the 2021/22 season closed on July 31, the shore price was in the $8.50 to $9/pound range.
According to a lobster market outlook that was prepared by John Sackton for the Lobster Council of Canada and presented at the Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister’s conference, “we are not facing a general crisis in seafood markets. We are facing a collapse in shellfish markets. Salmon, oysters, mussels, coldwater shrimp all selling normally, but shellfish represent the greatest portion of Canadian export value. This hits the Atlantic provinces hard. We are seeing a return to traditional price behavior from distortions before and during the pandemic.”
Price increases for lobster were mostly driven by strong processor demand in 2020 and 2021, but in 2022, demand for tails and meat is down between 33 and 37 per cent from last October, reads the market outlook. In turn, tail and meat weakness pushes down the price for live lobster. Potential recession and lower consumer spending is already hitting meat and tails and will likely impact buyer demand for live lobster this fall.
According to preliminary statistics from DFO, LFA 35 fishermen landed 2,316,315 kg of lobster during the 2021/22 season with a landed value of $51,507,800. For the 2020/2021 season, 2,513,288 kg of lobster were caught in LFA 35 with a landed value of $50,830,516. For the 2019/2020 season, the catch weighed in at 2,644,567 kg, valued at $46,875,214.
There are 94 licence holders in LFA 35. The season runs from Oct. 14 to Jan. 31 and from the last day of February to July 31. The season is scheduled to open in LFAs 36, 37 and 38, also in the Bay of Fundy, on Nov. 8. LFA 33 and 34 are scheduled to open on Nov. 28.