At this time of the year in Southwest Nova Scotia, harvesters have an extra spring in their step as the weather and water warms and they put the final big push on to finish yet another lobster season.
But, as everyone knows, this lobster season has been anything but normal. Sure, veteran skippers in this region have been through almost every sort of tumultuous season known to man. They have endured such obstacles as poor catches, low prices, harsh weather and tragedy — sometimes all in one season.
But it would be a safe bet that even the most pessimistic individual out there could never have even dreamed or had a nightmare about this season — one that is sure to be talked about for generations to come.
Just a few short months ago, who would have guessed that an obscure virus, originating in a Chinese city that many had never even heard of, could have so quickly blindsided the global fishing industry, leading to market closures for Atlantic Canadian seafood, inventory gluts and unprecedented drops in price for such critical and valuable commodities as lobster.
With the immediate and abrupt shutdown of the critical Asian export market, the industry in this area was sent reeling. For years, Nova Scotia harvesters, processors and governments have been working tirelessly to grow the market for locally caught lobster to these areas — and it has been working. Locally-caught lobster was Nova Scotia’s most valuable export species in 2019, valued at almost $1.2 billion.
Then, all of a sudden, along comes COVID-19 and everything changed, practically overnight. Asian importers stopped buying, cargo flights were cancelled and the lobster industry in this part of the world is left shaking its collective head.
However, while the Chinese live market is starting to slowly make a comeback after its sudden demise in late January due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19, the North American and European markets are another story. In practically every country, restaurants, food services, specialty and sporting events, casinos, conventions, cruise ships and other related markets either closed or cancelled.
With the lobster season in lobster fishing areas (LFAs) 33–34 scheduled to end on May 31, it appears that most harvesters are once again showing the grit and determination that has made them famous and are finishing out the season as best they can. Buyers in the region are still purchasing lobster and it appears the industry is trying its best to weather the storm.
But as the season ends in LFAs 33–34, there is still some uncertainty in other areas in Atlantic Canada where spring lobster seasons have already been delayed due to COVID-19 safety concerns and market uncertainty.
But note a glimmer of hope in Prince Edward Island where Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) announced the important fishery in LFAs 23, 24 and 26 would open on May 15. It normally opens on April 30.
There is no question that the resilient fishery in this region will overcome and recover from the disruption created by COVID-19. Fishermen have been bouncing back from adversity for generations. However, the game plan on adjusting to what is sure to be the COVID-19 world “new normal” is still being worked out.