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LOBSTER OUTLOOK: Smooth sailing, rough sailing and you’re paying what? Past season starts in southwestern NS

2017 dumping day in southwestern NS got off to a start the early morning of Nov. 28. This was the scene in Pinkney's Point, Yarmouth County NS. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
2017 dumping day in southwestern NS got off to a start the early morning of Nov. 28, one day behind schedule. TINA COMEAU PHOTO

YARMOUTH, NS – Sometimes the opening of the lobster fishing off southwestern Nova Scotia goes off without a hitch. And sometimes not. Here’s a look at some past season openings over the years.

The Atlantic Treasures sails in Yarmouth harbour against a sunset backdrop as dumping day draws to a close on Nov. 28, 2017, as the fishing season got underway in southwestern Nova Scotia. TINA COMEAU
The Atlantic Treasures sails in Yarmouth harbour against a sunset backdrop as dumping day draws to a close on Nov. 28, 2017, as the fishing season got underway in southwestern Nova Scotia. TINA COMEAU

2017: One-day delay

The temperature was cold as lobster fishermen at wharfs throughout the region awaited the start of the season the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 28. Dumping day had been delayed by one day due to forecasted winds. Normally the season gets underway the last Monday of November. While dumping day was still somewhat windy, the next day when fishermen pulled up their traps was a day they probably should have stayed home, given those winds.

FROM OUR ARCHIVES: 2017: Safe opening day to lobster season off southwestern N.S.; some calls for assistance on Day 2

FROM OUR ARCHIVES: 2017: Cheering the lobster fishing fleet from Cape Forchu Lighthouse

2016: Another one-day delay

High winds on the last Monday of November postponed the start of the season to the following day. Throughout the season fishermen saw high prices that continued to its end. During the week prior to the season wrapping up fishermen were still being paid $8 a pound for catches, but that’s because not as many lobsters had been landed during the season. Usually the end-of-season shore price is in the $4 to $5 range.

FROM OUR ARCHIVES: 2016: When mom watches from the wharf

2015: Good start, good price

The lobster season got off to a good start with decent opening day weather and better yet, a better price than in previous years. Fishermen were being paid around $6 a pound for their landings.

FROM OUR ARCHIVES: PHOTOS: Dumping Day morning in Wedgeport, Yarmouth County

FROM OUR ARCHIVES: 2015: Lobster fishermen set sail in SW Nova, 3 incidents of men overboard

2014: Six-day weather delay
After being delayed six days due to the weather, the lobster season in LFA 34, which takes in all of Yarmouth County and chunks of Shelburne and Digby counties, finally got underway the morning of Saturday, Nov. 29. The neighbouring LFA 33 district went with a Friday, Nov. 28 start. It was the second year in a row that strong winds delayed the opening. The season should have started Nov. 24.

2012: Should have stayed home

Days into the start of the lobster fishery many people were saying that fishermen should have heeded the warnings and uncertainty over price and waited to dump their traps at sea. Fishermen hauling in catches were only getting paid $3 a pound and there was a fear the price would drop further. At a Dec. 5 meeting on the Yarmouth wharf a newsletter was informally distributed containing the heading “Uniting is the key.” But that was the problem, said fishermen. While everyone agreed they don’t like the price, the fishermen were not united.

NOVEMBER 2007 – Fishermen in busy putting tarps over their trap-loaded vessels. With rain in the forecast, and the season opening delayed, fishermen wanted to protect the bait in their traps after the opening of the season was delayed. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
NOVEMBER 2007 – Fishermen in busy putting tarps over their trap-loaded vessels. With rain in the forecast, and the season opening delayed, fishermen wanted to protect the bait in their traps after the opening of the season was delayed. TINA COMEAU PHOTO

2009: Sundays – yes or no?

In the weeks leading up to the start of the lobster fishery, lobster licence holders voted on whether they wanted to give lobster landings a break for one day during each week during the upcoming commercial lobster season. The intention was not to flood the market with a glut of lobster. The year before there was no Sunday fishing the first three weekends of the season for the same reason. But that hadn’t given fishermen the prices they were hoping for.

2000: Season opening, election day

Grey skies, drizzle and a forecast of an easterly gale set the stage for the season’s opening. The day got off to a quiet and safe start. Included in the season were 12 licenses being fished by the Acadia First Nation, which had signed an interim fishing agreement with DFO that month, following six months of negotiations. Dumping day was also the day of the 2000 federal election. How many fishermen went to the polls to cast ballots was unknown, but it’s a pretty safe bet voter turnout within the industry was low given that fishermen were busy and preoccupied with the start of the fishery.

1997: Illegal fishing concerns

Some discontent rocked the lobster industry during the preseason. Issues with illegal fishing had many fisherman worried that they wouldn’t be getting their fair share during the lobster season. Fisherman also wanted a clear indication regarding aboriginal fishers. They wanted to know whether aboriginal fishers had the right to fish year-round and whether they were allowed to sell what they caught. A Supreme Court decision – the Marshall decision – two years later spelled out the answers to a lot of these questions, particularly when it came to food, social and ceremonial purposes. (Although even up to the present day, there are still questions that remain by non-aboriginal fishers.)

1995: Vessels sink, crews rescued

Very early on the sea claimed two vessels south of Yarmouth on the opening day of the season. The crew of the Simon Jacque out of Lower Wedgeport had to abandon their boat and were picked up by the nearby fishing vessel Lady Wallace. And four crewmembers were plucked from a liferaft and hoisted aboard a Labrador helicopter when their vessel, the Lady Candace, fishing from Abbotts Harbour, had to abandon their boat after it started taking on water. The Rescue Coordination Centre said the crew was suffering from various stages of hypothermia.

In December 1991 lobster fishermen tied up their boats atfter the season started refusing to fish for a low shore price.
In December 1991 lobster fishermen tied up their boats atfter the season started refusing to fish for a low shore price.

1991: Price too low, we won’t go

In a matter of hours, a handful of fishermen organized a fleet tie-up that kept nearly 1,000 lobster vessels in port a week into the lobster fishery. And that number was expected to keep growing. Fishermen were protesting the low price they were being offered, which hovered around the $2.50 mark. Some fishermen even noted fishermen in Grand Manan were getting a better price. They were being paid $3.50 a pound.

1989: Lots of issues

As fishermen were busy getting ready for the start of the season, there was also much to ponder, including the possible impact of initiatives in the United States to try and restrict importation of Canadian live lobsters that that did not meet the American minimum body size of three-and-a-quarter inch. On top of this, a coast guard strike was seeing coast guard and fisheries vessels tied up ahead of the season, leaving fishermen concerned over safety and search and rescue capabilities. Fortunately there were no major mishaps when the season opened, and coast guard vessels were on the water.

Boats in Wood's Harbour ready for the start of the 1986 lobster season.
Boats in Wood's Harbour ready for the start of the 1986 lobster season.

1986: “As good as last year”

The first week of the fishery was hampered by bad weather, however in Shelburne County fishermen claimed the harvest was “as good as last year’s.” The price settled at $3.25 and $3.50 per pound.

1982: Weather caused problems

High winds and large swells caused problems for boats and crews on the opening of the season. In Yarmouth, seven men were rescued when the 40-foot vessel Lisa Ann II and the 38-foot vessel New Holiday started sinking after being swamped. In Pubnico, the crew of the 45-foot-vessel Fundy Explorer reportedly dumped 150 lobster traps over the side when the vessel began to list heavily. A story in the Vanguard said the traps could not be recovered.

1981: Foggy days behind them

The season opened with some of the best weather experienced in almost five years. In Shelburne County it was a far cry from the previous year when the fog had left visibility of only one-eighth of a mile. This year’s 10 miles of visibility and slightly overcast sky was a welcome change.

1975 – Lobster vessels leave from Wedgeport. CYRILLE LeBLANC PHOTO.
1975 – Lobster vessels leave from Wedgeport. CYRILLE LeBLANC PHOTO.

1972: Restaurants couldn’t afford to buy lobsters

As the season got underway, a newspaper article in the Yarmouth Vanguard stated: “The price opened at an all-time high of $1 per pound to the fisherman.” Later in the winter the price climbed to over $2 per pound for the fisherman. It was reported that these prices were so expensive that restaurants couldn’t afford to buy lobsters. A lobster boat also made front page news on Nov. 22, 1972, when it caught fire. The headline read: “Fire destroys $15,000 lobster boat.” The 40-foot, fiberglass-built boat was brand new. The value is quite a change compared to what boats are worth nowadays – with many new ones costing half a million dollars or more.

1970: Unfair advantage complaints

Although the season got off to a good start weather-wise, two vessels fishing out of Wedgeport, Yarmouth County, were swamped with water. The vessels lost their traps but there was no loss of life. One of the boats was towed to Harry’s Island where a bucket brigade of 20 fishermen helped to bail it out. Meanwhile, the federal fisheries minister had received complaints about auxiliary boats transporting traps to the fishing grounds. People complained that it was unfair since those who could afford to pay the hiring charges for larger boats could gain an advantage over the majority of the fishermen. Said minister Jack Davis: “Large boats, not registered as lobster vessels, are not allowed to engage in this practice.”

1966: Opening price 65 cents to $1

1966 saw beautiful opening day weather, with temperatures soaring above normal and calm seas. The opening day price was to be anywhere between 65 cents a pound and a dollar a pound. The opening price the previous year was said to be a “record-breaking” 90 cents a pound. The record breaking high before that was 65 cents a pound. You couldn’t be on a lobster boat without a fishing license. Not to worry, however, you could purchase one for just 25 cents!

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