The spring lobster fishery in southwestern Nova Scotia “hasn’t been much” says Bernie Berry, president of the Coldwater Lobster Association.
Never mind the multitude of issues and concerns that COVID-19 has caused, foul weather and cold water temperatures have also impacted fishing efforts and landings this spring, said Berry.
“I suspect for March and April catch-wise, you might have to go back 20 to 25 years to see that few lobsters landed, for a whole myriad of reasons,” said Berry.
Cold water temperature in the 34.5-degree range has been “too cold,” said Lockeport lobster buyer Mike Cotter.
“The water temperature has to be 39, 40 degrees before we see any signs of lobster and the weather has been brutal ever since the beginning of the season. We really haven’t had good fishing weather at all.”
Cotter said catches have been “very low” this spring, with fishermen averaging half a pound to a pot when they should be averaging one or two pounds.
When the season opened in LFAs 33 and 34 last fall, it “got off to a decent start” aside from the weather, with a record opening shore price in the $8/pound range.
“Good prices continued into January until we fetched up into the COVID-19 issue in late January,” said Berry. “Since then it’s been confusing to say the least. Not knowing how much of a market there is, the price of lobsters has been up and down dramatically, the disease itself came home to roost. There’s been all kinds of things going on we never experienced before.”
In late February, the shore price dropped to $4, rebounded to $7 in early March and settled out at $5/pound at the end of April, said Berry.
“I think one of our concerns here is if the shore price goes too low, we’re going to be a long time recovering from it. Somebody’s got to put the brake on this price going down. Even $5 is a little bit of a stretch. We realize there are still big problems worldwide. We get that, but if the price collapses, trying to rebuild next fall from a $4 or $5 price is going to be hard. Our fall is so important to everybody in the industry, the fishermen, the buyers and the communities because of the volume of lobsters landed… A low price is a recipe for disaster for everybody down the road. You just can’t crater these prices. It will not work.”
Berry said fishermen did slack back their fishing efforts this spring because of the price, the weather, the landings and COVID-19 health concerns.
“There’s not a lot of lobsters coming ashore,” he said, but what is, is the best quality of the season.
Since COVID-19 first collapsed the live lobster market in China in late January, there has been somewhat of a rebound in that market, but there are collapses in other markets, including North America.
“China has come on a bit, but it is not beating the doors down,” said Cotter. “There are some being shipped out. The market in North America is very slow. There are no processors jumping up and down to take our lower grade lobsters so that causes a little bit of a problem. It’s just been crazy.”
Leo Muise, executive director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance said demand on the world market was roughly one-third of normal going into May.
“The world markets for lobster remain a work-in-progress,” said Muise. “Some markets come and others go, it would seem on a daily basis. Things change frequently based on the spread and intensity of the COVID-19 virus. It is difficult to predict what the market will look like in the coming weeks because the landscape changes so quickly that something that is true today may be out of date tomorrow.”
Muise said member companies are pressing on as best they can in what are challenging times.
“Our member companies will do the absolute best they can to try and make this industry successful, but it is hour by hour, day to day, until the world gets closer to normal,” adding the Alliance is very proud and thankful to their member companies and all of their employees who are risking their investments and personal safety to keep the sector moving.