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With P.E.I.'s lobster season at the halfway point, landings are looking up

Brody Wedge, left and Chris Wedge, deckhands for Northport fisherman Benny Gavin slide pans of lobster onto the dock Monday morning. Lobster catches there are remaining strong but there are pockets along Prince Edward Island’s north shore where landings are troubling.
Brody Wedge, left and Chris Wedge, deckhands for Northport fisherman Benny Gavin slide pans of lobster onto the dock Monday morning. Lobster catches there are remaining strong but there are pockets along Prince Edward Island’s north shore where landings are troubling. - Eric McCarthy

Price up slightly, but marketing board chair says it’s not keeping up with costs

ALBERTON, P.E.I. —

Prince Edward Island’s spring lobster fishermen have arrived at the half-way point of their season with overall landings believed to be up.

But Charlie McGeoghegan, chairman of the Lobster Fishers of Prince Edward Island Marketing Board, points out catch rates vary across the province.

“There are areas on the north side of P.E.I. that aren’t having a good year,” he said, suggesting catches are off in the Naufrage to Rustico area in particular.

“Last year they didn’t have a good year and this year they’re not having a good year, so far.”

Fishermen returning to port in Northport on Monday were sounding satisfied with the first half of their season. Two Thumbs Up captain Benny Gavin wasn’t even concerned with the four-day weather delay at the start of the season, suggesting his May landings were the best they’ve been in 48 springs on the water.

And while McGeoghegan believes the overall catch, Island-wide, is trending ahead of last year, he said fishermen are unsatisfied with what they are being paid for product passing across the scales.

"The guys in Nova Scotia... it’s written right on their slips, the weight of their catch and how much they’re getting paid, and we sell lobster for 14 days before we can find out."

            - Charlie McGeoghegan, chairman, Lobster Fishers of Prince Edward Island Marketing Board

He said the most common price being reported is $5.50 a pound for canners and $6.00 for markets. Some markets are selling for up to $6.50 a pound, he said, and he’s heard of live shippers paying close to $7.00 a pound.

Shore price, he admits, is a little higher than last year, “which we’re happy about, but we feel it’s not keeping pace with inflation and everything else.”

Costs outpacing prices

The Hannah Grace joins most of the other boats leaving Miminegash Harbour on Aug. 9, 2018. - Eric McCarthy
The Hannah Grace joins most of the other boats leaving Miminegash Harbour on Aug. 9, 2018. - Eric McCarthy

He noted fishermen are paying $1.25 to $1.80 a pound for bait this year compared to 25 cents a pound 10 years ago. “So, quite a difference, and you’ve got to have bait to go fishing,” he said.

“Bait is awfully expensive,” Gavin acknowledged. “Everything is expensive.”

“We feel $5.50 and $6.00 is a slap in the face, because we got $5.50 and $6.50 in 2005 and, here we are, 14 years later, and they’re paying less than what they did then,” McGeoghegan commented. “What else has paid the same price over the last 14 years?”

He listed some of the other costs, suggesting the cost of new boats has doubled in the last five years. He said engines have doubled in price in the past decade and pickup trucks have close to doubled.

“We don’t feel we’re being treated fairly and we’re thankful there are live shippers here who are helping to push the price,” McGeoghegan said.

He says the marketing board is doing its part to promote and market P.E.I. lobsters, applying the one cent a pound levy to such activities as festivals and trade shows. Last year’s levy on 38 million pounds of product brought in $380,000 for such purposes and some of that money was leveraged for federal and provincial marketing funds. Funds were also applied to a market study on where the biggest gains in lobster sales might be achieved.

He said there is merit in promoting a P.E.I. lobster, comparing it to P.E.I. potatoes which are known and promoted around the world.

Spring lobster fishery hits the half-way point. Journal Pioneer file photo
Spring lobster fishery hits the half-way point. Journal Pioneer file photo

“We feel it’s worthy, and we want to be set apart from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick because they’re not collecting a levy.”

The United States remains the industry’s biggest buyer, but McGeoghegan said opportunities were identified in Western Canada, Montreal, Toronto and even in Halifax. There are also eyes on Asian markets. If every one of China’s 30-some million new millionaires a year were to buy just one lobster a year, McGeoghegan said that would take up all of Prince Edward Island’s annual landings.

“There are more flights heading to all those places than ever before. The Halifax Airport built a big expansion on just for shipping lobster. Moncton Airport is doing the same, and those flights have been booked solid,” he said.

But P.E.I. lobster prices have still lagged behind what fishermen in other provinces receive.

“When you look at the Magdalen Islands, they are typically 75 cents a pound more than us. Nova Scotia is usually 75 cents to a dollar more in the spring. New Brunswick is usually 50 cents more in the fall. It’s not right and we just want to be treated fairly. We know the markets are there,” he said. “The demand is off-the-chart.”

While the marketing board has not made a decision, McGeoghegan confirmed the board is looking at how price setting boards in the Magdalen Islands and Newfoundland meet with fishermen and buyers to establish a price before the season starts. He said Island fishermen don’t typically learn what they will be paid for their catch until two weeks into the season.

“The guys in Nova Scotia - we can see their boats - and when they pull into the wharf at the end of the day, it’s written right on their slips, the weight of their catch and how much they’re getting paid, and we sell lobster for 14 days before we can find out. It’s not right.”

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