Demand for lobster is up, but not the price

Russel Ramsay (left) captain of the lobster boat Captain’s Haven, and crew member Brett Perry unload their final catch of the day at the Northport Pier. Despite high demand for lobster, fishers on PEI are only getting $5.50 for canners and $6 for market sized lobster, about a dollar less than their counterparts in Nova Scotia are receiving. This also happens to be the same price they received for catches in 2005. Since that time, the price of pretty much everything in the industry has increased significantly. Jillian Trainor photo

While weather and landings have turned out nicely for fishers in Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 24, prices are less than satisfactory.

Right now fishers are getting $5.50 for canners and $6 for market sized lobsters, similar to what they received at the end of last year’s season of $5 for canners and $5.50 for markets. However, other LFAs in Atlantic Canada have been getting at least a dollar more for their landings.

“Southwest Nova Scotia, they fish from the end of November right through to the end of May, and they got nine dollars a pound all winter, and the last three to four weeks, they were $7.50 to $7,” said Charlie McGeoghegan, chairman of the Lobster Fishers of Prince Edward Island Marketing Board. “When they finished off just a few days ago, they finished off at $7.”

In Seacow Pond, fishers discussed how the price they receive for their catches impacts their season.

“The more you get paid, the more you make,” said Norman Hackett, captain of the boat Whispering Waters. “Everything is expensive nowadays, you have to get a good price. It’s $200 a pan for mackerel or gaspereau.”

Robert McHugh, Captain of the boat Olde Saltshaker, agrees.

“Everything you buy goes up in price, but everything we sell goes the other way,” he said. “Fuel goes up, bait goes up, everything you buy, anything marine goes up in price.”

Fishers in Northport have expressed similar thoughts.

Tyler Deagle is captain of the boat Full Throttle. He said it’s frustrating, if the demand is there for it, prices should match the demand.

“I believe it’s the only place where you don’t know what you’re getting for your product until you actually sell for your first full week and you get your first paycheck. Crab (fishers), they always know their price before they set their traps. If it’s a dollar less a pound on an average year of 20 or 30,000 pounds, that’s $20,000 $30,000 out of your pocket that would cover that expense. It impacts quite a bit.”

Prices are set by the buyers, but Mr McGeoghegan said the buyers on PEI don’t seem to want to reveal how they’re set. This is really frustrating for the fishers because of how much the price of everything has increased. He said in the last five years, the prices of boats have doubled, the price of engines for boats has gone up at least 50 per cent over, and bait has tripled in the last seven or eight years. Fishers used to get bait for .30 cents a pound, but now it’s somewhere between $1.30 to $1.50 a pound.

The price that buyers are paying right now, are on par with what fishers got in 2005.

“It started declining in 2008, and in 2009 it was $2.75 and $3, and that stayed that was pretty well until 2013 and that’s when we went on strike and basically the whole Gulf tied up for a week,” Mr McGeoghegan said. “Prices went up a little after that. ”

When asked if he’s concerned about whether or not fishers could once again go on strike, Mr McGeoghegan said he doesn’t see that happening at this point. He feels that the mainstream buyers in the province have kind of a monopoly, and would like to see more competition in the market to make sure things are more fair for the fishers.

 One thing the marketing board is looking at is the possibility of having a price setting board, similar to the ones in Newfoundland and the Magdalen Islands. With these boards, prices for lobster are negotiated in March and April, so fishers know what they’re getting for their catches before they head out.

“We’re investigating that right now to see how it works and to see how the fishermen put it in place, and if they’re happy with it,” Mr McGeoghegan explained. “From the initial talks that we’ve had with them, they seem quite happy with it. At least they know when they set the traps what they’re going to get paid, and that’s a big thing. We go fishing for two weeks before we know what we’re going to get. I don’t know any other industry that does that.”

He said the board would like to work with the buyers, and has tried to partner with Island buyers on projects, and have discussions with them before the beginning of the season, even having the province involved with round-table meetings, but the buyers just seem to snicker. He said it’s almost like they look down on the fishers.

Mr McGeoghegan said there’s more demand now for lobster than there’s ever been before, and with tariffs on lobster lowered from the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union and from China. When demand of a commodity increases, like, for example, with oil, so does its value and as a result, its price.

“We’ve got the test on it at the (Atlantic) Vet College to back up our claims that the meat yield and the protein count is second to none,” he said. “As far as quality goes, if they’re handled right on the boat and right on the truck, they can go anywhere. So we feel that the price should be matching that quality.”

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