HARD TIMES FOR LOBSTER FISHERMEN

 
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Lobster fishermen in the red
CHRIS HAYES
The Cape Breton Post

SYDNEY — Lobster prices are sinking for fishermen in eastern areas of Cape Breton who sell their catch to buyers at the wharf.
Kevin Nash, who fishes off Glace Bay in the Final Chapter ll, said the price had fallen to $3.50 a pound at the start of this week, which he figured was a 20-year low.
“We are on the verge of not being able to break even at that price,” he said Tuesday, a day on which high winds kept he and some other neighbouring fishermen ashore.
“Guys with boat loans and other bills like that, they are just not going to make a go of it. Guys without the boat loans may be able to scrape by for awhile but when the catches drop down as they traditionally do near the end of the season, it’s going to be a hard go. Right now, I think we are working for expenses.”
Nash, who is in lobster fishing Area 27, which stretches along eastern Cape Breton from Cape North to Louisbourg, was getting $4.25 a pound from buyers when the season opened May 15. Prices dropped to $4 a pound Friday and to $3.50 Monday, he said.
Fishermen in Cape Breton are selling all lobsters as “markets” these days and are no longer marketing smaller ones that were known as “canners.”
Catches are about average for the start of the year, Nash said.
Fuel prices were down compared to last year but have been creeping up, he said. Frozen mackerel, which is used as bait, is about the same price as last year.
Nash said the price last year started out at $5 a pound and fell to $4.85.
Buyers seem to be paying the same price around Cape Breton, he said.
“I have done a little bit of calling around in Arichat and other places and they are paying the same price, so it is not the local buyers. It is the price all over.”
Colin MacDonald, CEO of the shellfish company Clearwater, which buys about 10 million pounds of lobster from across Atlantic Canada annually including from Cape Breton, has some ready answers about why prices are so low right now.
“Although prices are down substantially, the marketplace is down somewhere between 30 and 50 per cent,” he said Tuesday. “So the consumer isn’t buying.”
Consumers are likely buying more of the necessities of life in this economic climate but when they treat themselves — which they still do even in tight financial times — they are opting for something other than lobsters, he said.
Lobster has problems in the marketplace including uncertainty about supply, quality (does it have both claws and is it still alive, for instance), and price which bounces all over the place through the season, he said.
“Restaurants opt for certainty,” he said. “They always want certainty. You need certainty in life when you are running a business. You know, it’s nice to have lobsters on the menu but Jesus, it’s a real bitch when there is no certainty to the price and you have to put menu pricing on it and there is no certainty to what the customer is going to enjoy.”
Warm water shrimp may be a safer bet for a restaurant because it comes with guaranteed price, quality and supply 12 months a year, he said.
MacDonald argued that the lobster industry has to become more professional, for instance by establishing the same controls over buyers that exist for fishermen.
“There is a limited number of licences (for) fishermen. A limited number of buyers should be in the industry and if you want to get into the industry, you should have to buy somebody out and you should have to have a certain level of investment as a buyer.
“Anybody in the world can be a buyer.”
The federal government has announced it will make $10 million available to East Coast lobster fishermen to help them promote and market their catch, amid news reports that some prices have fallen below $3 a pound.
Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald, who is fighting an election campaign, also pledged to set up a $250,000 fund that would be used to find new markets for lobsters and help struggling fishermen come up with ways to cut costs, although the promise has been dismissed by opposition parties as too little, too late, The Canadian Press has reported.

chayes@cbpost.com

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