The pots are now ashore in lobster fishing areas (LFA) 33 and 34.
This marks the end of a season where the weather has hampered fishing efforts, including a one-day delay in the scheduled season opening of November 27, hurricane force winds in late December and northeast gales throughout the spring.
“Mother Nature did us no favours during the winter months,” said Leo Muise, executive director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance.
“The weather was comparatively mild and not a great deal of ice and snow, but wind conditions and power outages were unprecedented. The most challenging fishing conditions due to high winds and storm conditions in recent times.”
While strong landings were reported early in the season when fishermen could get out, cold water temperatures have also had an impact in landings this spring.
“The water temperature is still pretty cool,” said Lockeport lobster buyer Mike Cotter. “The weather hasn’t been the best. It hasn’t warmed up the water temperature enough and that’s what the lobsters need to crawl. They like it 42, 43 (F) degrees and its running 36 to 38 degrees.”
Cotter said in LFA 33, catches this spring have been very low compared to last spring. “Catches are down to a pound to a trap on average. Last year they were getting a pound and half to two pounds a trap so it’s almost down half from last year.”
Strong catches in LFA 33 were reported earlier in the season.
Cotter said it also seems in LFA 33 that fishermen are getting a lot of smaller lobsters this year. “It’s more of a chick, quarter run than normal,” he said. “Usually in the spring they get halves and up.”
In LFA 34, Bernie Berry, president of the Coldwater Lobster Association suspects overall, “when you look at the whole season,” catches will be “down marginally from last year” and the average price down probably 75 cents per pound on average. The season shore price opened at $5.75/pound, rose to $7.25 by early January, peaked at $13 in March and closed in the $6.50 range
Aside from the weather, “it’s been a good season overall,” said Berry. “It hasn’t been a record-breaking season either catch-wise or price-wise… but it hasn’t been a disaster,” describing the spring as “so-so.” “There are lots of tinkers and lots of seeders around. That bodes well for the future,” he said.
Marketwise, “the demand for Nova Scotia lobster continues to be strong, but at a price,” said Muise. “As a sector last year, we paid more than the market would bear. This spring, the pricing is still attractive but more acceptable to the marketplace we would hope. Whenever prices peak, we see strong resistance, especially for meat and tails from the value-added sector. Processors have struggled to make a margin at higher price levels.”
In general, the industry has seen some adjustments in market prices, said Geoff Irvin, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, summarizing that for processed products in 2017/2018, meat prices went down dramatically, larger tails went up, whole raw and cooked from the fall went down and the live sector was steady to lower.
“Asia, Europe, the United States and domestic markets remain generally good for all premium protein, but we must be mindful that there is a point where restaurants take items off their menu when prices get too high, which is what we saw with lobster meat,” said Irvin.
Muise said the U.S. “remains our most important market,” for Nova Scotia lobster, with demand in Europe “constant, reliable and growing,” boosted by the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) that took effect last fall, creating a duty-free tariff on live lobster exports to Europe.
Previously, live lobster exports into Europe carried an eight per cent tariff. Under CETA, tariffs on frozen and processed lobster will be phased out over the next three to four years.
Since the CETA agreement came into effect, live lobster export data and anecdotal comments show that live lobster sales have increased to the EU, especially in southern countries, such as Spain, Italy and France, where the eight per cent tariff relief “makes us more competitive with our competitors in the U.S.,” said Irvin.
Asian countries are also important markets for Nova Scotia lobster but can prove challenging, said Muise. “The Asian appetite is great at times and very lackluster at others. Chinese demand literally comes and goes and is a challenge to master.”
The final catch data and landed value for the 2017/18 season for LFAs 33 and 34 won’t be available until this fall. There have been record landings for the past two seasons in the two districts, peaking in 2015/16 with a record landed value of $570 million with 39,200 tonnes caught. Landings were just over 30,200 tonnes with a landed value of $490 million for both LFAs in 2016/17. In 2017, Nova Scotia lobster exports were valued at $947 million.