Most New Brunswick fishers were shocked and disappointed when they were told recently the prices they would be receiving for this years’ lobster catches would be much lower than those paid to spring fishers in other Atlantic regions.
“I didn’t expect it to be even at last year’s prices, but they should certainly be a little better than they are. All you have to do is look at spring prices and maybe have a drop, but at some point you have to have a balance. I believe it’s underbalanced at the moment, but then, it’s part of the industry,” says Jeff Parsons, one of about 23 commercial lobster fishers who fish out of the Botsford Wharf in Murray Corner, N.B.
Since the beginning of the annual fall lobster season in LFA 25, fishers have been receiving $4.25 per pound for canners and $4.75 for market lobsters, while spring lobster fishers in various areas of Atlantic Canada were paid from $7 to $8 per pound for their catches.
“I think there’s a fair price in there for everyone. Do I think it’s a fair price right now? No, I don’t… it’s a hard pill to swallow if you look at the spring prices. And they can talk about landings being large, but if you take the spring landings and overall the amount of fishermen, we’re certainly not at that level, by no stretch,” Parsons says.
Parsons says perhaps the spring lobster prices had been a bit too high, but if the buying market made some mistakes by paying the higher prices earlier, fall fishers shouldn’t be made to make up the difference.
“I don’t want to see it on my back, and that’s what sometimes I feel occurs. If you look traditionally, over the years when there’s a high spring price, quite often the fall price drops,” he says.
Fishers in the more northern areas of New Brunswick are also upset about the lower prices.
“It’s not right. The union went around before the fishing season and everybody was telling that we were supposed to get $6 a pound at least, but when August came around it wasn’t like that at all,” says St. Louis Cape fisher, Maurice Mazerolle.
But although lobster prices are much lower, expenses just keep going up, Mazerolle says.
“Keeping up the boat, fuel, bait… it costs more every year. Last year we paid 65 cents a pound for bait and this year it’s up to 95 cents. But we don’t have any choice, we have to sell our catches; you have to make a living,” he says.
And while fishers in some other areas of LFA 25 did boycott lobster buyers for a day or two, fishers in the St. Louis area chose not to.
“What’s the use, they already know how we feel about it all,” Mazerolle says.
While prices are down, catches are up and the quality of the lobster is good. In Murray Corner, Parsons says the meat quality has been excellent.
“The quality during the first three weeks was as good as you’d ever get here. I can’t speak for other areas, but they were all hard-shelled lobsters… and there is lots of variety of sizes. Right now, the future looks good, but nature changes. So, two or three years from now, who knows? We can’t predict water temperatures or weather conditions,” he says.
Acceptable carapace size for market lobsters increased from 73 millimetres to 75 millimetres for the 2017 season, as part of the federal Department of Fisheries fishing guidelines. A final size increase, to 77 millimetres, will take place in 2018.
“I’m okay with the increase in size, I think it’s a good move environmentally, and one that will better ensure the future of the lobster industry. It just means we throw back the smaller lobsters right now, but over the next few years we’ll catch them again and they’ll be bigger and worth more,” Parsons says.
The fall lobster season in LFA 25, the western section of the Northumberland Strait, began on Aug. 8 and will continue until Oct. 10.