Cape Sable Island lobster harvester Janaya Nickerson offloads crates from a truck. This will be Nickerson’s fourth lobster season aboard Every Last Cent, captained by her father Herbie. “I love it,” she said. “I used to go when I was a kid banding and decided to get into it because I really enjoy it. I have a passion for it.” Kathy Johnson photo

The countdown is on to the opening of the southwestern Nova Scotia lobster fishery on November 25, weather permitting of course.

While there are always unknowns going into the six-month season, marketwise, the outlook for the fall and winter seasons is optimistic, said Leo Muise, executive director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance.

“Inventories in storage are not high, the value of the U.S. dollar is steady and the demand for the product remains decent. All pointing to a good year,” he said.

“Unknowns, like the volume of landings, timing and quality of landings, along with the availability of labour and the demand by the processing sector for the B-grade product will determine the final price paid at dockside as well as to the buyers and processors.”

Muise said the demand for lobster throughout the spring and summer has been solid, but at a price.

“Some dealers have been challenged to find customers willing to pay a premium price for our premium product. Going into the fall fisheries, we are expecting demand to remain high. This is always contingent on the level and quality of landings and of late on the geo-political events that are taking place in the countries of our major customers. The Chinese tariffs on U.S. lobsters are still in effect and they have opened the market for Canadian lobster in China greatly. The U.S. and China are in trade talks and if they work out their differences, we could return to what is a more normal marketplace. Time will tell.”

Brexit is also “an unknown at this time but is not expected to cause great changes to the European marketplace,” said Muise.

“CETA (Canada European Union Trade Agreement) has been in place for three years now and most of the tariffs have been reduced to zero, giving us an advantage over countries who do not have a similar trade agreement. The increase in European sales of seafood have not been as great or as quick to develop as was first hoped for when CETA was signed.”

Nevertheless, the total value of all Canadian lobster exports to Europe topped $2.2 billion in 2018, up from $9.19 million in 2014, according to a report prepared for Stats Canada by Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada.

Argyle fishermen Preston Cottreau (right) and Garth Spinney work on rope in preparation for the opening of the lobster season in southwestern Nova Scotia. Kathy Johnson photo

The report “shows mixed results for the last three years for lobster meat (market is up which is likely due to tariff relief and lower meat prices), down for frozen lobster (whole cooked and raw tails) and down slightly for live lobster after a big jump between 2016 and 2017,” said Irvine.

“It seems that China has taken up everyone’s focus and the EU has been somewhat overlooked but there are also other factors at play including availability of air freight, currency and demand in the U.S.A.”

Muise said the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance is working closely with the Halifax airport and key shippers to try and increase the number of direct flights available to Europe.

Cape Sable Island fisherman Philip Nickerson (right) and his son Colby overhaul gear for the upcoming lobster fishery in southwestern Nova Scotia. Kathy Johnson photo

The Halifax Stanfield International Airport broke ground in late August on a new air cargo logistics park, which will further increase cargo capacity at the airport. The facility is expected to open in early 2021.  Lobster is the largest single commodity shipped at the airport by both value and volume, at $215.7 million and 11,495 metric tonnes respectively in 2018.

Fishermen are also optimistic about the upcoming season.

“Everybody’s optimistic,” said Bernie Berry, president of the Coldwater Lobster Association. “The markets seem to be strong. The economy in China, Europe and the U.S. seem to be doing well. There are potential clouds on the horizon, but all is positive right now.”

With LFA 35 set to open on Oct. 14, Berry said fishermen will be keeping an eye on the landings and shore price there.