SOUTHWESTERN N.S. – The traps are coming ashore, marking the end of the 2017-18 commercial lobster fishery in southwestern Nova Scotia on May 31. The season is being described as not a banner year, but not a bad one either.
“Overall the season has been a good season,” said Bernie Berry, president of the Coldwater Lobster Association. “At first the catches were good, the prices were decent, but then the weather set in through the winter, and spring was a little bit slow starting. It hasn’t been a banner spring but hasn’t been a disaster either.”
Weather has been a major factor for fishermen in Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 33 (along the south shore of the province) and LFA 34 (in southwestern Nova Scotia) this season, from the one-day delay to the opening and hurricane-force winds in late December, to a steady rip of nor’easters this spring.
“We had northeast gales for four weeks in a row,” said Lockeport lobster buyer Mike Cotter, which kept fishermen ashore and water temperatures pretty cool.
“The weather hasn’t been the best. It hasn’t warmed up the water temperature enough and that’s what the lobsters need to crawl,” he said, adding last week there might be a spark in landings in this final week of the season, “but it wasn’t that good a spring for the fishermen. In LFA 33, the catches have been very, very low. The prices were good, but the catches were so low it was unreal.”
In LFA 34, Berry said he expects when all is said and done, the overall landings for the season when compared to the previous season probably will be down marginally, noting the final numbers won’t be available until the fall.
Price-wise, the season shore price opened at $5.75, rose to $7.25 by early January, peaked at $13 in March, and closed in the $6.50 range in most places. Given that the landings have not been that great, “the guys were a little disappointed” with the closing price, said Berry.
“They think it could have finished up closer to $8,” he said.
Last year, the season closed with a record-setting $8 per-pound shore price. Berry said compared to last year, he expects the price was lower by probably 75 cents on average when you look at the whole season.
Both Berry and Cotter noted fishermen have been seeing lots of tinkers and berried females (egg-bearing lobsters), which “bodes well” for the future of the stock.
“Hopefully we’ll give everything a rest for six months and in the fall will be the start of another good season,” said Berry.
In the meantime, the Coldwater Lobster Association will be continuing their lobster moult survey over the summer months and co-organizing the Lobster Fishermen’s Forum for September in Yarmouth with fellow industry stakeholders: the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association, the Scotia Fundy Fishermen’s Association, the Maritime Fishermen’s Union and the Brazil Rock 33/34 Fishermen’s Association.
Lobster landings and values in LFA 33 and 34 topped the charts in recent years, with a record landed value of $570 million for the 2015-16 season with 39,200 tonnes caught between the two fishing districts. In 2016-17 landings were just over 30,200 tonnes with a landed value of $490 million for both LFAs combined. Lobster is the top seafood export for Nova Scotia, valued at $947 million in 2017.
While the LFA 34 season is ending May 31 in Yarmouth and Shelburne counties and also in parts of Digby County, lobster fishing off of Digby and other parts of the county that fall in LFA 35 will continue until the end of July.
In Yarmouth on Thursday, May 31, a lobster season haul-up celebration is happening at the Cape Frochu Lighthouse as part of the season's events and actitivies. Back in November people lined the shoreline here to see the boats off at the start of the six-month season.