Rope and traps were piled up on the wharf last week prior to the start of the lobster fishery. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
By Tina Comeau
Lobster fishermen were being asked not to go fishing on Wednesday so they could attend meetings to talk about not going fishing or about holding back their catches.
The 1688 Professional Lobster Fishermen Association is asking fishermen, their supporters and supporters of the industry to attend meetings set for 11 a.m. on Yarmouth’s waterfront (at the wharf with the ice plant) and 2:30 p.m. in the parking lot of the Barrington arena.
At issue is the low price being paid the fishermen for lobster catches. For many, they are only receiving $3 a pound for their catches. Given this there has been talk of whether fishermen should stop fishing or hold back their catches to force a better price.
Spiros Tourkakis – a fish buyer with East Coast Seafood Inc. in Massachusetts and the company's executive vice president – thinks a halt in fishing would help the industry. But, he says, not from the perspective that it will get fishermen a better price, but rather that it will stop the situation from getting worse. He said with the volume of lobster that has been landed, it has created an over supply of lobster.
If things continue as they are there is a risk the price paid to fishermen could drop even more, he says.
“There is enough inventory to do our business now,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday evening from his office where his company distributes live North American lobster to markets around the world. “We would encourage them to give us a break to catch up with the landings.”
When you scan the comments on social media sites, fishermen don’t buy the fact that the buyers can’t be paying more for lobsters.
But Tourkakis says there is no plot by buyers against fishermen. He says the situation boils down to simple facts.
“The price is based on supply and demand. If somebody thinks that somebody is manipulating things to set the price, it’s completely wrong. It’s completely supply and demand. But the fishermen, they don’t think it’s that way. They think it is a plot by the buyer.”
He says there has been a tremendous volume of lobsters that have been landed since the season opened in southwestern Nova Scotia a week ago, coupled with catches from elsewhere. But just because the landings are up, he says, doesn’t mean the markets have increased accordingly. He says the economies around the world are not very good, particularly in the biggest lobster user after the United States – this being Europe.
He doesn’t blame the fishermen or the buyers for what is happening. He says the industry is faced with weaker markets.
He also says the Canadian dollar being on par with the United States dollar doesn’t help the situation either. He calls the exchange rate one of the industry’s biggest enemies.
But in the end, he says, it all comes down to landings.
“The landings have increased dramatically and the market has not . . . the live market has not,” he says. “So where these lobsters end up going is into the processing sector . . . but in the processing sector you also have to compete with Maine because the majority of Maine product is going to the processors.”
It is being reported that several lobster buyers got together over the weekend to ask the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to temporarily close the season off southwestern Nova Scotia for a 72-hour period. But DFO wouldn’t do this, saying it can only close a season if there is a conservation issue or a public safety issue.
Fishermen, meanwhile, feel they should be paid more for their catches and the work that goes into bringing these lobsters back to shore.
And even though they say they can't break even on a $3 a pound price, fishermen keep fishing. And many are fishing harder because they need to land more lobsters to make up for the low price.
Meanwhile, the local economy in southwestern Nova Scotia stands to take another hit if there is less money circulating within the industry, which is why the 1688 association is not only urging fishermen to speak out about the situation and take action, but they are also calling on the business community to stand up with fishermen.
Meanwhile, back in his office where Tourkakis says they’ve been working around the clock to move lobsters, Tourkakis is asked what he thinks could change the current situation.
“I think the landings should be completely slowed down, that’s what we need to do,” he says.