Positive start to season for lobster industry
by Kathy Johnson
Strong catches, good quality, a better opening price than last year and so-so weather have added up to a positive start for the southwestern Nova Scotia lobster fishery.
Except for a few minor mechanical breakdowns, dumping day on Nov. 30 went off without a hitch. "There were four events," said Ian Marshall, area director for DFO, where search and rescue resources aided fishing boats that had broken down due to mechanical failure.
A Cape Sable Island fisherman was lost overboard on the fourth day of the season in rough weather but was rescued, unhurt, and reportedly resumed fishing after getting into dry clothes.
On the enforcement side, court appearance notices have been issued to seven fishing captains, charged for allegedly jump starting the start in Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 34 before they were permitted to leave the wharves.
Federal fisheries officers are also investigating several incidents of illegal fishing activity in LFA 34 that has resulted in the seizure of undersized lobsters and berried (seeded) females.
While full tides and rough seas have negatively impacted fishing efforts during the opening week, landings are reported to be strong and the quality top notch. In LFA 34 there were reports of some boats landing in excess of 5,000 pounds for the first day's haul, while other fishermen are reporting slight decreases. "The catch the first day was down compared to last year, but last year was a phenomenal season" as far as landings go, said Lockeport buyer Mike Cotter, who noted the catch from the boats he buys from was consistent for the first two days, which is a positive indication. "I think it'll wash out the same as far as landings go," he said. As for quality, it's "excellent," said Cotter, estimating that less than "one percent" of lobsters being landed are soft shelled. "It's very, very good," said Cotter. "Overall it's a good run of lobsters. I think we're going to have a good year. I think the fishermen are going to be happy. I think everybody is going to be happy."
The shore price opened at $4, a 75-cent increase over last year's price, but still less than the $5 to $6 opening price that had become the norm over the past two decades. "What the price is going to do, I don't know," said Cotter. "This week will indicate a lot."
Marketwise, conditions are somewhat better than last year. "The price is going to be improved over last year but we're still in the thralls of a worldwide recession which is affecting live market sales," said Denny Morrow, executive director of the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association. "Exporters of lobster are working hard to try and find new markets, expand, and get a better price for the product but the recession is not going to end overnight."
On the processing side, "Reports are that the inventory situation is better than last year at this time," said Morrow, which is important for moving inventory of culls and soft shelled lobsters, especially during the opening weeks of the season when landings are highest.
More than 1,500 fishing boats employing thousands of deckhands take part in the six-month lobster fishery in LFAs 33 and 34 (Eastern Passage to Burn's Point, Digby County). Thousands more are employed on shore in direct and spin-off industries. The lobster fishery is worth in excess of $400 million annually to Nova Scotia's economy.