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Strong start to fall lobster season in P.E.I.

Joseph MacDougall, lifts pans of lobsters onto the West Point wharf for Romey Fraser, captain of Pure Comfort. For most fishermen in Lobster Fishing Area 25, the western half of Northumberland Strait, the fall fishery is off to a good start.
Joseph MacDougall, lifts a pan of lobsters onto the West Point wharf for Romey Fraser, captain of Pure Comfort. For most fishermen in Lobster Fishing Area 25, the western half of Northumberland Strait, the fall fishery is off to a good start. - Eric McCarthy

Lobsters not so plentiful in northern part of Area 25

WEST POINT, P.E.I. —

The vice-president of the Prince County Fishermen’s Association (PCFA) has a simple method to gauge the success of the fall lobster season so far. 

“There’s nobody growling and my phone’s not ringing, so it must be good. That’s all I can say,” said Shelton Barlow. 

“Everybody is quite happy.”

Catches in Lobster Fishing Area 25 started out stronger than normal when the season opened on Aug. 6.

The catch rate has naturally dropped off since then, but Barlow estimates they’re still trending ahead of last fall’s record landings. 

Helping to boost that mood is a shore price running 75 cents a pound ahead of last year.

The quoted price this fall is $5 a pound for canners and $5.50 a pound for markets.

Except for a stiff breeze last weekend and the remnants of post-Tropical Storm Erin overnight Thursday, weather conditions have also been favourable. 

Barlow estimates about 75 per cent of the catch is market size lobsters, while Lee Knox, president of the PCFA, places the percentage of markets closer to 70 per cent. 

Three successive years of carapace size increases, bringing the legal minimum carapace in LFA 25 to 77 millimeters as of 2018, helps explain the high markets-to-canners ratio.

Only legal-sized lobsters under 82 mm are canners. All lobsters over 82 mm are sold as markets.

“The catches are down from the first (week), but overall it’s still good,” commissioned buyer Robert Arsenault said.

“Catches are dropping somewhat, but not extremely like they normally do. They’re holding their own,” Knox said.

The good catch rates are not universal, though. He said catches in the northern part of the district, from Miminegash to North Cape, have not rebounded as anticipated following the scheduled carapace increases.

As a result, many of the northern boats are sailing great distances to set and fish their gear towards the southern part of the district. 

“Not many boats stayed north, so we thought they’d do well. It didn’t pan out,” he said.

Sailing great distances, fishing larger-sized traps and having to measure most lobsters because of the small difference between a canner and a market lobster, means more manpower is necessary, said Knox, noting most captains now employ two helpers.

With the concentrated effort in the southern part of the district, including boats from the Richibucto area of New Brunswick, Barlow is impressed at how well the catches are holding on but warns, “it can’t stay up like that forever".

LFA 25 boats from P.E.I. have to comply with a new condition of licence this year.

Reacting to the results of a PCFA vote, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) requires that Island boats not leave home port to start their daily lobster fishing trip prior to 4 a.m., and they must be back in port by 9 p.m.

Knox said DFO personnel issued several warnings last Monday. 

“I think ever since then everybody’s been walking the line.”

The LFA 25 grounds are fished by 225 boats from P.E.I., 470 from New Brunswick and 16 from Nova Scotia.

Barlow believes the carapace increases have helped boost the overall catch rates, but he believes the four millimetre size difference between LFA 25 and 24 is a prime factor in the lower catches to the north. 

“Lobsters migrate,” he says.

Still, Barlow is optimistic LFA 24 fishermen will take note of how the overall catches are going up in his district and will want to move their measure up to achieve similar results. 

“They have good catches now, but if they go up in size they’d have some fishery over there,” he said.

The larger fishing area in LFA 24 would also work to their advantage.

“Overall, I think they’d benefit big time,” Barlow said.

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