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OPINION: Collusion or delusion?

A lobster fisherman sorting his live lobsters at the end of the day to be sold at the docks. -123RF
A lobster fisherman sorting his live lobsters at the end of the day to be sold at the docks. -123RF - file photo

Welcome to spring 2018 and a more realistic lobster market reality for P.E.I. fishermen

BY STEWART LAMONT

GUEST OPINION

The editorial board of The Guardian in Charlottetown has determined they have located collusion in the lobster sector. Collusion? Are you kidding me? Check the bottom lines of companies in the seafood sector in Atlantic Canada and then tell me there is collusion. Incompetence surely, but collusion is the least of our issues.

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Perhaps I misunderstood. Perhaps the Russians are involved and the Mueller Report will investigate Canadian lobster while they are investigating Trump and his crowd as well. Are we living in a dream world in which the market will pay anything whatsoever for an Atlantic Canada lobster? I don’t think so. I wish it were the case but not in my world.

The lobster sector: The port-by-port, wharf-by-wharf lobster sector. More, specifically, the price to the fishermen at any given moment on any wharf throughout Atlantic Canada. Is there a topic about which more is said publicly that is scandalously inaccurate? Does anything generate more publicity than lobster pricing and competitive practices? Is there any price high enough to satisfy those complaining about $6 per lb.? There should be a requirement that to comment publicly, from the vaunted editorial perch, the Charlottetown editors would have at least done a tiny bit of homework.

For instance, last year at this same time, P.E.I. fishers were earning $1-2 per lb. higher on average. We suggested at the time that this was because the lobster buyers were at least temporarily delusional. Competitive forces drove us silly apparently. We paid prices beyond what the market would bear at the time. We admitted it. Millions of dollars were lost as a result of it. Shareholders and bankers wondered if we were business people. It was a fishing and fisher’s bonanza but not so great for companies, investors and consumers. Lobster prices got so high, most of the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day promotions were completely cancelled. It was, frankly, crazy.

The proof is in the pudding. Some of that product from May last year remains in the freezers 13 months later. We operated last year under the mistaken notion that all lobsters are created equally. I love Prince Edward Island. I love Islanders and love to eat their lobster. But as a business proposition, P.E.I lobster is far from premium quality.

Some 85 per cent of the P.E.I. stocks are processed and processed stock is chosen because of cost and quality. The best hard-shell product in Atlantic Canada tends to be worth more and is shipped to the live market. And it tends not to come from P.E.I. But even here there is an obvious limit. Some of our key clients in Shanghai, Seoul and Las Vegas are telling us this morning they cannot place orders for our Nova Scotian, Atlantic-side lobster. They have desperate suppliers elsewhere willing to sell to them at a dollar a pound cheaper. We are too expensive and here’s the ironic rub: the competition is using Gulf lobster.

The lobster business is a bit of a shell game. Supply and demand dictate pricing on a daily basis year-round. When product is short, demand may increase, and there is a willingness to pay higher pricing for a small volume. But at times such as now, with every harvester in Atlantic Canada producing lobster, market conditions dictate the value of the product.

Fortunately, really fortunately actually, we need not pass the hat for fishers in Atlantic Canada. Their hopes may be temporarily dashed that pricing is down a touch from last year. Regardless, catch rates in Atlantic Canada will allow fishers to have a superb seasonal income. We work every day to ensure they have a sustainable resource and a sustainable living.

There are very few sugar daddies left in the lobster sector. Put 2017 down as a wonderful anomaly if you were a fisherman. Welcome to Spring 2018 and a more realistic market reality.

- Stewart Lamont is managing director, Tangier Lobster Company, Tangier, N.S. which exports to 21 countries around the world. He has given numerous presentations over the years in P.E.I., mainly sponsored by the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association. www.tangierlobster.ca

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