SOUTHWESTERN N.S. – The largest commercial lobster season in the region, the province and the country gets underway next week in southwestern Nova Scotia and along the province’s south shore with the opening of the LFA 34 and 33 lobster fisheries.
LFA (Lobster Fishing Area) 34 includes all of Yarmouth County and parts of Shelburne and Digby counties. LFA 33 picks up in Shelburne County and extends to Halifax County.
Aboard boats leaving from wharfs at the opening of their seasons will be more than 5,000 fishermen, which includes extra crewmembers that are hired for the opening weeks of the season. There are around 1,678 lobster licences amongst these two LFAs.
According to preliminary figures from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, during the 2017-2018 season, LFA 33/34 licence holders recorded landings of 31,863 tonnes, generating a landed value of approximately $502 million. DFO says last season is expected to be confirmed as the second largest landed value on record.
In 2017-2018, 60 per cent of the total inshore lobster landings in the Maritimes Region were from LFAs 33 and 34.
The economic importance of the lobster fishery to the region cannot be overstated. Reference to the landed value of the fishery was met with applause at the recent Yarmouth and Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual business awards where the importance of the lobster industry was highlighted.
Boats fishing in LFA 34 are permitted to set 375 lobster traps at the start of the season. Given this, safety is of the upmost priority as the season gets underway and boats head to the fishing grounds heavily laden with traps and gear. A full complement of search and rescue (SAR) resources will be on the water and on standby when the commercial lobster fishery in LFAs 33 and 34 opens.
“We’re in the business of planning for the worst and hoping for the best,” says Marc Ouellette, Canadian Coast Guard Regional Supervisor for Maritime Search and Rescue at the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Halifax.
While the season is slated to start the last Monday of November – which this year falls on Nov 26 – ultimately it is the weather that will dictate when dumping day happens. Years ago DFO and the LFA 34 industry advisory committee put in place an opening day protocol that dictates any winds forecasted above 25 knots will automatically trigger a postponement to the opening of the season.
There will be DFO-industry conference calls this weekend to monitor the upcoming forecast to determine if the season will open as planned or whether a delay will be required. In the past two years winds have delayed the opening of the season by a day.
A change to the lobster fishing season this year is the introduction by DFO of bycatch monitoring. Heading into the season fishermen had the choice of using the bycatch monitoring system set up by DFO or joining an alternate three-year bycatch monitoring pilot project offered by the Southwest Lobster Science Society – which is a collaborative industry-led effort of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association, Brazil Rock 33/34 Lobster Association, Coldwater Lobster Association, the Maritime Fishermen’s Union Local 9 and the Scotia Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association.
On the market front the United States remains the region’s largest live export market. China is an example of a continuing growing market for lobster exports. Leading seafood export John Sackton calls the Canadian lobster growth in the Chinese market “quite remarkable.”
At a fall lobster forum held in Yarmouth, Sackton noted China accounts for 37 per cent of global seafood consumption and is a market that is projected to grow rapidly, more so than any other place in the world.
“So China is really going to become very, very dominant to the global seafood industry,” he said.
The lobster fishery in LFAs 34 and 33 is managed by effort control, which includes limits to the number of traps, licences and fishing days, and includes many measures to address conservation. Some of these conservation measures include a minimum lobster carapace size of 82.5 mm (3.25 inches), escape mechanisms in traps that enable undersized lobsters to exit traps and a rule requiring the release of all female lobsters bearing eggs.
Price-wise last year, 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.
The LFA 35 season in Digby and the upper Bay of Fundy got underway in mid-October. Earlier this month the shore price there was $8 a pound. Better yet, some involved with the industry were describing the quality of the lobster being landed as “off the charts.”
The LFA 34 and 33 seasons run to May 31.
5 things to know about this lobster fishery
- Lobster fishing areas (LFAs) 34 and 33 combined make up the largest commercial lobster fishing in the region, the province and the country.
- Around 5,000 fishermen will be on boats when the season opens.
- Numerous search and rescue assets will be deployed on the water and in the air on dumping day as safety is a top priority.
- DFO says last year lobster landings in the LFAs 34 and 33 generated a landed value of approximately $502 million.
- The season runs from the last Monday of November, weather permitting, to May 31.