Lobster fishermen on P.E.I. have had their worst fears realized this week as prices for lobster were pegged very low at the beginning of the spring season.
'Fishermen are caught in the squeeze.' — Ed Frenette, P.E.I. Fishermen's Association
Fishermen were already dealing with high expenses: fuel is up and bait is scarce.
"Even at five [dollars a pound], it is going to be very, very touch-and-go for a lot of people," North Rustico lobster fisherman Norman Peters told CBC News on Wednesday.
"Anything under five, you can't make a go of it. You can't fish. You're going backwards."
Fishermen learned what they will be paid for lobster Wednesday: $4 a pound for canners and $4.50 for markets. Adding to the troubles are lower-than-average catches in all areas.
"We've got a disaster in the making," said Ed Frenette, executive director of the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association.
"Input costs are going through the roof, the shore price is going through the floor and fishermen are caught in the squeeze."
A soft market?
P.E.I. lobster processors say there are good reasons for low prices. Demand is down in the U.S. due to a flagging economy, and Canadian prices are lower given the strength of the dollar. There's also a glut of lobster from southwest Nova Scotia and Îles de la Madeleine.
But the fishermen's association is not convinced it is being treated fairly, and will hire a consultant to look at why prices are so low. They expect a report in about three weeks.
"There's also Asia and Europe, and our initial understanding is that markets are strong there," said Frenette.
Fishermen argue there's collusion amongst the buyers, but for now they have little choice but to unload their lobster and accept whatever price they are offered.