Lobster buyers calls for shutdown of N.S. fishery as coronavirus guts world markets

Lobster buyers and processors in Nova Scotia want an immediate stop to all lobster fishing in the province because the coronavirus pandemic has crushed the markets for it, CBC News has learned.

The industry association held an emergency conference call Thursday to discuss “the current unprecedented market situation.”

According to a call summary obtained by CBC, 75 companies participated and agreed harvesting should stop immediately in lobster fishing areas (LFA) 33 and 34, which run from Halifax to Digby.

They are the only two open, and they supply the largest share of lobsters caught in Nova Scotia.

The most recent combined annual landings were 27,000 tonnes worth an estimated $490 million, according to a federal Fisheries and Oceans economic assessment covering October 2018 to October 2019.

‘Monumental’ challenge

The problem is that more lobsters are being caught than the industry or market can absorb.

“The collapse of markets in the Pacific Rim, Europe and now North America make the challenge monumental as of today and for the short term future at least,” the summary states.

The Seafood Alliance of Nova Scotia wants the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to issue an order to shut down harvesting.

“We would like to meet with the various harvesting groups and DFO to have a discussion to see if we can come up with a plan that works for everybody to move forward,” executive director Leo Muise told CBC in a brief interview.

Lobster exports to China had just resumed

A shipment of live lobster left Nova Scotia for China on Saturday, the first such flight in more than a month after fear of the coronavirus and travel restrictions caused market sales to plummet.

Shipments to China — a critical market for Nova Scotia lobster — decreased in late January as travel restrictions implemented by the Chinese government kept people in their homes and out of restaurants.

During peak times of the year, seven to eight weekly cargo flights depart the Halifax airport with seafood products for Asian markets, an airport spokesperson told CBC News in January.

‘Serious decline in exports,’ says DFO spokesperson

A spokesperson for Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan says the minister has not received any request from the seafood alliance.

“We know that many industries, including our fisheries, are facing a serious decline in exports. We have been and will continue to monitor this situation closely. Any decisions going forward will be made only after close consultation with all of our industry partners,” press secretary Jane Deeks said in a statement to CBC.

The industry proposes to evaluate “economic, trade and logistics” conditions every four days and fishermen would be part of each review.

“We are confident this is the best and most effective approach for both fishers and companies to respond to this massive challenge in the lobster sector,” the call summary concludes.

‘A stupid move’

But not everyone is on board.

“I don’t think the fishery should be shut down,” said Bee d’Entremont, a veteran groundfish operator in Pubnico, N.S.

d’Entremont does not own a lobster licence, but family members do.

He sympathizes with buyers who are suffering, but said they decided to hold on to catches earlier in the season when they could have sold at a high price.

“They made a bad business decision to save their lobsters at $9, $10 a pound. That was a stupid move,” he said.

d’Entremont argues fishermen should not be forced off the water because of the business decision.


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