Lots of lobster, but “it’s a bad year” for fishermen
By John DeMings
Fishing in lobster fishing area 34 began last November with a gale and a fuel price of 71.9 cents a litre. Now, weather is improving but fuel costs of as much as $1.14 threaten to swamp fishermen.
One of those considering possible loss of his boat is Digby fisherman Waylon Mosher who said he isn’t sure if he can keep making payments on his large offshore lobster boat, ‘Master Mariner’.
He and fellow fisherman Carmen Burnie say area lobstermen are performing a balancing act – trying to fish enough to make a living but not so much that fuel costs wipe them out.
Mosher shows a copy of his receipt for a fuel fill-up last November when diesel was selling for 71.9 cents a litre. The 3,757 liters pumped into his boat by a local fuel merchant cost $2,701.
On May 6, just six months later, a similar fill-up totaled $4,114. The price of diesel had climbed to $1.03.9 – and subsequent hikes have pushed that to record heights.
Fuel costs persuaded Mosher to switch his fishing effort to a smaller boat, the ‘Rip n Tear’, but even that didn’t save enough and he has scaled back fishing effort. He stood on Digby’s wharf the morning of May 16, a sunny and relatively calm day after days of wind. “There are two weeks left in the season and we should be fishing every day. We’re only going out every four or five days because we can’t afford the fuel.”
Both Mosher and Burnie are convinced government has to give fishermen some fuel price relief – the same kind of fuel subsidy extended earlier this year to farmers.
Lobster is only fetching about $5 a pound, about the same price lobstermen were getting a decade ago, Mosher said, and yet every other cost, including fees at the now community-owned wharf, have risen. “This is the first time I can ever remember when the catches were good but it is a bad year,” he says.
Both Mosher and Burnie expect this year’s problems to ripple throughout the lobster fishing industry, with people liable to lose boats and homes.
Many of those who in recent years purchased expensive licences and larger boats because of an ability to fish further offshore and in heavier conditions are among those hardest hit by the rapidly rising fuel costs and stagnant price for lobster.
As a result, those boats are sticking closer to shore and fishing efforts are being concentrating in a smaller area by inshore and offshore boats, Burnie noted.
Thousands of fishermen and many coastal communities depend on the normally lucrative lobster fishery in southwestern Nova Scotia. The season opens in mid-November and is over at the end of May. (John DeMings is a journalist with Transcontinental Media’s Digby Courier, which is a contributor to the Sou’Wester.)