[CAPE SABLE ISLAND, NS] - The commercial lobster season in southwestern Nova Scotia ended on the weekend just as it had started, on a downward trend. From the lowest shore prices in 20 years due to the global economic recession to less than banner catches, there's been very little positive news for the industry during the six-month season.
[caption id="attachment_10453" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Cape Sable Island fisherman Eric Cox grabs a pair of lobster traps being offloaded from the fishing vessel Four Links at the Clark's Harbour wharf on Friday. The lobster season ended on the weekend in southwestern Nova Scotia. Kathy Johnson photo."][/caption]
"It's rough," said Lockeport lobster buyer Mike Cotter. "Right now everybody is hurting. It's scary. The fishermen are hurting. The buyers are hurting. The local businesses are hurting. We drastically need to get this fishery back on an even keel. We depend on the lobster fishery for everything."
With an opening shore price in the $3.50 range, the price did climb to as high as $8 a pound in late winter when very few boats were fishing, only to start falling as soon as the harvesting effort resumed. The season closed at $4 a pound. Usually the season opens and closes with shore prices in the $6 to $7 range, and can peak at $12 to $14 mid-winter when landings are scarce.
"The market is weak and there's not a lot of lobsters moving," said Cotter. "The only thing saving us is a lot of the boys are taking their lobsters to the tank houses and holding them."
Going into the season there were projections that that the depressed market conditions could translate into a $50 million loss to the local economy. Although catches in Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 33 (Baccaro to Eastern Shore) have been fairly strong especially the last week of the season, with the low shore price profit margins were kept low. Landings in LFA 34 (Baccaro to Burn's Point Digby County) were reportedly all over the map, with catches up for some fishermen and down for others. Cooler than usual water temperatures played a part in decreased landings this spring, just as severe winter weather put a damper on catches in the opening two months.
While the economic downturn has prompted some help from government to the lobster industry in the form of financial assistance for marketing initiatives and deferred payment options for provincial boat loans, no assistance has been made available to deck hands, some of whom were not able to log enough hours during the season to qualify for Employment Insurance (EI).
Repeated calls have been made to lower the number of hours lobster fishermen need to qualify for EI but so far there's been no action.