Crewmember Danny Fraser and captain Leslie Vincent display a sampling of the catch they brought to port Thursday, setting day in the spring lobster fishery. Like most crews that set their traps Thursday morning, all they had to show for the day was a sampling. Boats in eastern P.E.I. set on Wednesday and brought in their first full catch on Thursday, one day ahead of their Western P.E.I. counterparts.
MONTAGUE — P.E.I. lobster fishermen will haul in more money for their catch this spring but it has nothing to do with a negotiated price.
The increase, according to analysts, has more to do with a lower Canadian dollar and a huge demand in Asia.
Shore prices are hovering at $3.75 for canners and $4.25 for markets as Island fishermen start their first full week of the spring fishery. A second dockside buyer is paying $4 for canner and $4.50 for markets.
Even lobster peddlers selling from pick-up trucks were easily selling out over the weekend at $5 canners and $6 markets.
“It’s not where it should be but it’s better than last year and I think it will edge up,’’ says fisherman and Belfast-Murray River MLA Charlie McGeoghegan.
“I think fishermen are a little more optimistic this year.”
Maritime governments appointed panels and compiled reports over the winter all focusing on ways to beef up lobster prices, but many sources say the higher prices simply reflect the supply and demand of the marketplace.
“For the past couple of years, there were too many lobster being landed, in too short a season, and not enough buyers,’’ said one industry analyst privately. “This year is different, there is much more demand and competition.”
P.E.I. fishermen landed 1.7 million pounds more last year than in 2012.
The same industry analyst predicted last year’s dismal shore price of $2.75 and $3.25 in an interview with The Guardian last spring, one week before the season opened.
The terrible prices last year led to wide spread boat tie-ups around the Maritimes. The season was disrupted by about two weeks but the price didn’t change and fishermen facing bank payments went back to the sea.
“Yes, the price is higher but not where we would like it,’’ said Mike McGeoghegan, president of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association. “It should be over $5.”
McGeoghegan said it’s perplexing when Pictou fishermen, just across the Northumberland Strait from his own home, are being paid $4.50 and $5 for the same lobster.
“Someone is sitting at a desk and saying here’s the P.E.I. price, the lowest in the bunch,’’ he said. “So all these panels and reports have done little to take the mystery out of why this is happening.”
An industry report this year from Michael Gardner confirmed lobster landings increased by 70 per cent in both Canada and the U.S. over the past 10 years.
While P.E.I. landings were up in 2013, the low prices pushed the value down. Fishermen landed 28.7 million pounds in 2013 compared to 27 million in 2012; however, the value in 2013 was only $91 million compared to $113 million the year before.
Online analysts suggest there is a huge untapped demand for lobster this year in China following trade show promotions which could bode well for the Atlantic supply.
Meanwhile, there is concern that the record levels of lobster in Maine will subside by next year as population research indicates less young lobster are settling in the region possibly due to warmer weather.