Higher lobster price still not enough to pay bills, P.E.I. fishermen say

Increase is simply not enough in light of lower catches, say Island fishermen, adding that industry is facing uncertain future

Steve Sharratt comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on May 15, 2014

Captain Josh Clory, right, unloads the catch Wednesday at Seafood 2000 in Georgetown. Fishermen say while the prices are up slightly this year, they are still not making enough money to make ends meet.

©Steve Sharratt - The Guardian

GEORGETOWN – Nick Martell has an idea on how to improve low lobster prices this year.

It won’t solve all the problems facing the fishing industry, but it certainly showcases the discrepancies.

“There wouldn’t be such a low price if I had a friend out in Fort McMurray who I could ship lobster to,” says Martell, 35, from the side of his boat docked in Georgetown. “He could take them to the Walmart parking lot there and sell them easily for $8 a pound.”

But this isn’t Alberta and Martell is reminded of it when he checks his weigh-in ticket that shows he’ll average about $4 a pound for his lower than average catch here on Wednesday.

“That’s just not enough,’’ he says. “There is no way most fishermen are going to pay the bills and make a profit on that kind of money. Yes, we’re getting more than last year…but that’s just making up for the currency changes.”

Josh Clory couldn’t agree more. He unloaded his trays of lobster at the Seafood 2000 plant here knowing it will barely cover his effort.

“Right now the water is so cold that catches are down,’’ he says. “So we may be getting a buck more than last year - which has more to do with the lower Canadian dollar - but I’m landing less lobster.”

Craig Avery of the Western Gulf Fishermen’s Association in western P.E.I. estimates landings are down 30 to 50 per cent.

“I figure my own landings are down 30 to 35 per cent and a drop of around 27 per cent is enough to offset the current price increase,” he says.

Landings could certainly improve as the season wears on, but there is little hope for improved price this year. It’s a buck higher than last year when fishermen went on strike for the first two weeks of the season and paralyzed the industry.

But that, says Clory, only exemplifies the crisis that sees certified and experienced fishermen, burdened with exorbitant lines of credit, landing a resource that commands a significant price for everyone but the primary producer.

“I don’t know what we can do about it really,’’ he says in the late morning sunshine. “We went on strike last year and that didn’t work.”

Martell works as a crane operator in Alberta for most of the year just to make ends meet.

“My company is nice enough to give me 10 weeks off to come home and fish…..I basically come home to lose money.”

While Alberta is a job, P.E.I. is home, and Martell hopes things will eventually change so the fleet he purchased just two years ago will provide enough of a living so there’s less need to head west.

“I’m all for the marketing levy to kick in and all for the provincial government offering to help because something has to be done…..there’s just too much uncertainty.”

Fishermen say they can’t understand how the P.E.I. lobster continually commands the lowest price in the chain, when every other region from Boston to New Brunswick, realizes a higher price.

P.E.I. fishermen are receiving $3.75 a pound for canners and $4.25 for markets, up from $2.75 and $3.25 a pound last spring. Nova Scotia fishermen, however, are realizing $4.50 a pound for their canners and anywhere from $5.00 to $5.50 a pound for markets.

Some reports claim the mainland price has declined this week because the glut of P.E.I. lobster pushing the price down.

“I don’t know about a glut,’’ says Clory. “You saw the few trays I brought in today and that can’t be called a glut.”

Martell and Clory hope the marketing levy is implemented as soon as possible and legislation is passed to ensure a set price before traps hit the water next year. The levy would take a penny a pound from both fishermen and processors and raise about $500,000 every year for marketing and promotion of P.E.I. lobster.

“Something has to be done…or this won’t be an industry,’’ says Clory.

People who don’t fish or own a fleet (lobster boat and gear) have no idea of the stress involved with a job dependent on so many variables, added Martell.

“I walked into the Sobeys in Fort Mac one day when lobster was $25 a pound and I wanted some. The cost for six lobsters was over $160 and I paid it,” he said. “You know I really enjoy fishing…but it’s hard when you are fishing for nothing.”