If there was ever a time that lobstermen in LFA 33-34 would get a decent opening day price for their catch, it is now.
It was sort of a perfect storm in regards to price —few lobsters on the market, a low Canadian dollar, a demand for the product in Asia and northern Europe, as well as the all-important U.S. market and a weather forecast generally void of gale force winds.
Lobsters opened at $6-$6.25/pound and were still at that level when January arrived.
Landings have been phenomenal throughout the season due to the lack of storms and water temperatures which hovered in the 45 to 48 Fahrenheit range.
They were still landing large amounts of lobster from areas such as Lobster Bay by the end of December. Normally, after 10 days to two weeks into the season, cold weather forces the lobsters into deeper, warmer waters. This hadn’t happened as of this writing.
“There is a problem with quality, especially in the offshore, but landings have been exceptional,” said Ashton Spinney, who recently retired after more than 50 years of fishing for lobsters out of his home port of Argyle.
The quality issue could come back to haunt this industry in the spring.
According to Stewart Lamont of Tangier Lobster Company Limited, product was shipped which shouldn’t have been because of quality issues.
“They’re catching next spring’s lobsters now. The buyers and processors need a break because there is so much product coming in and a lot of it is sub-par,” he said in an interview.
He termed the quality awful, especially from some areas of southwest Nova Scotia and the quality is just marginal in LFA 33, which usually produces a top quality lobster at this time of year.
The problem was a cold July and August and a warmer than usual September to January period.
This more than likely led to a late moult. While a lobster would have a hard shell and be quite active, the meat count could be low. This could only be found via a blood protein test, which has to be done on each individual lobster which is just about impossible during the frantic first three weeks of the fishing season.
Demand for the product so far this winter has been quite good due to a favourable monetary exchange.
Lamont said sales to northern Europe were excellent, especially in Belgium, Denmark and Sweden, but less so in southern Europe.
“In southern Europe they prefer the American lobster because it is cheaper by a few dollars a pound but of poorer quality. The Asian market, especially South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, has been an excellent market for our lobsters,” he said.
He termed the Chinese market a bit iffy because they didn’t want to pay the price, but sales, including China, would pick up with the coming of Tet, the Chinese New Year.
The logistics to Asia have improved to the extent that fresh lobster can be landed in 36 to 40 hours. During the opening weeks of the season there are direct flights from Halifax to Seoul, South Korea.
The season wasn’t without a tragedy however.
Keith Stubbert, a native Cape Bretoner, died when he was tossed overboard on dumping day while fishing off Woods Harbour. A few days later in the same area, three fishermen were tossed into the ocean when their vessel the Sarah Elizabeth was pummeled by a rogue wave while heading home. Rogue or killer waves are becoming more frequent in that area.
The three men were picked up by the crew of the Three Rascals which had been following the Sarah Elizabeth into port. Winds were clocked at 50 km/hr at the time.