Traps are offloaded from the Whiskey & Water at the Falls Point wharf in Woods Harbour. Kathy Johnson photo

Lobster Season Ends in Southwest Nova

You might say that the lobster season in southwestern Nova Scotia has worn out its welcome this year.

“Enough is enough,” said one fisherman as he tied up at the Clark’s Harbour wharf to offload gear on May 28.

Prevailing foul weather throughout the spring coupled with a low shore price and little in the traps had many fishermen in lobster fishing areas (LFA) 33 and 34 landing their gear ahead of the May 31 closing date.

“The last week of the season, a lot of pots were coming ashore in the early part of the week. Usually most guys hold off until the last few days of the season,” said Bernie Berry, president of the Coldwater Lobster Association.

“The last day I suspect only about 25 per cent of the boats will still have gear in the water. Most guys have had enough of it. Put it in the books.”

In Lockeport, fishermen there were “pretty discouraged with the way the season went,” said Mike Cotter, Cotter’s Ocean Products.

“I say that because there are boats that have landed all their gear today (May 29) that normally don’t land all their gear early and are calling it a season. The price never really done them justice. It’s been $5 to $5.25/pound for the last few weeks. Normally the last couple of weeks when it’s a bad spring like this, normally the last couple of weeks the catches pick up and they get a couple pounds to a pot and it makes a spring for them. This spring it didn’t happen. The guys couldn’t get a pound to a pot. The catches have been very, very poor.”

Along with the relentless winds, water temperatures remained cooler than normal this spring, said Cotter. “The water hasn’t warmed up the way it should” ranging anywhere from 39 to 42 degrees. “You need it a little warmer than that to get the lobsters moving,” he said.

Berry said there were “decent signs” of tinkers and berried females in the catch. “The quality this spring was phenomenally good. This year mother nature provided a top-notch quality product.”

The 2019/20 lobster season in southwestern Nova Scotia went from boom to bust in a hurry once COVID-19 made its impact on the marketplace in late January. Record opening shore prices in the $8/pound range had climbed to the $10/pound range by January. By March, the price had plunged as low as $4/pound.

“Early on, before the effects of COVID-19, most fishermen were hoping for an early spring,” said Berry. “We did have an open winter and all of a sudden everything got flatlined… We had really bad weather since the first of March, the price was up and down, the catches never really went up… I think fishermen were disappointed that the price went to $5/pound. The biggest concern on that is going into next fall if we end up too low or we establish a certain price on the marketplace, it’s going to take a lot more convincing of the marketplace to open up or accept a bigger shore price for next fall. That’s very critical for us. We land 60 to 70 per cent of our lobsters in the first six weeks so we need a decent price.”

There are 1,662 licence holders in LFAs 33 and 34. Lobster landings were valued at $498.2 million for the 2018/19 season for both districts combined, according to preliminary statistics from DFO. This was down from approximately $502 million in landed value the previous season.

In the 2018/19 season, 8,724 tonnes were caught in LFA 33 for a landed value of $152.1 million and 19,610 tonnes in LFA 34 for $346.5 million in landed value.