Responding to a supply glut, lobster buyers are doing whatever they can to keep thousands of lobsters alive until prices improve.

Many have dropped prices and imposed boat quotas on hundreds of Nova Scotia lobster fishermen from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Eastern Shore.

Louisbourg Seafood hopes to keep more than 1,000 crates of lobsters alive long enough to find a buyer.

Effective Friday, Eastern Shore fishermen were told buyers will take no more than 500 pounds (227 kilograms) per day.

Further east in Guysborough County, 400 other fishermen have a 600-pound (272-kilogram) limit. There are also quotas in the Gulf. 

"The system is clogged." - Jerry Amirault

Warmer weather and big lobster landings in eastern Nova Scotia coincided with huge catches from the larger southwest Nova Scotia lobster fishery in the final week of their six-month season which ended May 31.

Jerry Amirault of the Lobster Processors Association says there's just nowhere to put live lobster this week.

"The system is clogged," he said.

The result has been a huge backlog of live lobsters.

"Simply, that the catches have been overwhelming. Day after day of good fishing weather. Catches in some areas that have essentially doubled," he said.

Cape Breton fisherman Billy Erickson says he too has witnessed the challenges in finding lobster buyers.

“We all got bait, fuel and our families to feed so this year has been difficult,” he said. “Now the price has dropped today to $4 a pound which is going to put more strain on the fishermen.”

Seasonal temporary workers

A large part of the delay in processing the glut of lobster has been the labour shortage in processing plants.

Nova Scotia MP Peter MacKay is trying to reassure the owners of fish processing plants that they will continue to be allowed to hire foreign workers.

Right now fish plants are exempt from the current federal moratorium on hiring temporary foreign workers.

Ottawa is reviewing the program and plans to bring in new rules soon.

Some in the seafood industry are concerned the ban could be extended to the fisheries but MacKay said Ottawa understands their need for temporary outside help.

"There are certain industries like our fishery that require, truly require because of the temporary and seasonal nature of the industry, that temporary foreign workers are given the opportunity to come here and provide that seasonal support,” he said.

“So we're very aware of that and the need for an exemption. And we're in full discussion on that matter now."  

Some fisherman in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence would like to see the season in the southwest end sooner so the market isn't flooded just as the Gulf season opens.
MacKay said they are working with industry to see where and how they can help.

“Certainly what we hope is that we'll be able to, in addition to other measures, locate new markets for our lobster," he said.