Lobster prices in the Maritimes are high and buyers in Nova Scotia say they've never seen lobster on the wharf sell for $8 per pound in early May.

This is the time of year when almost every lobster fishery on the East Coast is open — there are more boats on the water in early May than there are at pretty much any other time of the year.

With so many traps in the water, why is the price so high?

"This is the highest price in the history of the commercial fishery in the spring on this date. I emphasize on this date," said Stewart Lamont, a lobster buyer on Nova Scotia's eastern shore and managing director of Tangiers Lobster Company.

High prices passed on

Lamont said the high prices are great for the fishermen, but he questions whether the "business model" can handle a price of $8 per pound.

"Obviously when you pay higher prices to the fishers, we need to pass those prices on to the market."

It's a market, Lamont said, expecting the price to come down as more traps are hauled.

"The worldwide market knows that as more fishers get on the water and fishing, you create much more supply and the normal economic trend is that prices go down."

That's not happening, he said. The exchange rate with the United States is favourable, there's a lot of demand from Asia and buyers are competing for product, which helps harvesters.

A harvester's perspective

Some fishermen in Yarmouth admit they're enjoying some pretty good prices.

"It may sound greedy," said lobster fisherman Bernie Barry. "But why shouldn't it be higher?"

Barry said in mid-April, he could get $13 per pound at the wharf. He said buyers are trying to drive down prices so they can sell more lobster later in the year.

"I think a lot of this is being driven by tank houses who need to put cheaper product in their facilities for long-term holding purposes to feed their customers through the summer months," Barry said.

Barry, who didn't fish on Tuesday because it was too windy, said it was a good winter.

But conditions worsened in the spring with stronger tides, a cold snap and generally poor weather. Things, he said, are improving and he's hoping for a stronger catch in the weeks ahead.

Price 'nothing to get all excited about'

Graeme Gawn has been fishing in Cape St. Marys for more than 40 years. He said catches are low right now.

"They were pretty slack this winter and we expected by now that there'd be more lobsters crawling in," he said.

As for the $8 shore price, he's not as impressed as you'd expect, given five years ago he was struggling to get half that price.

"It's a reasonable price," he said. "It's nothing to get all excited about."

Gawn said when the Canadian dollar is worth 73 cents American, the price tends to creep up.

"It also means the price of traps and rope is up," Gawn said.

Asia factor

One thing all agree on is the demand for lobster in Asia has grown enormously. 

"The market has expanded so much," says Bernie Barry, president of the Cold Water Lobster Association. "There's big demand for lobster in China — the emergence of China and its growing middle class."

Buyer Stewart Lamont said that's good news, but $8 per pound makes it less profitable.

"When you add freight, shrinkage, financing and duties of 10 per cent to 22 per cent into certain markets, that's an expensive lobster."