Low prices were expected on the wharves this lobster season in P.E.I., but the situation has turned out to be even worse than predicted, with some fishermen being told not to bother taking out their boats.

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In 24 years of lobster fishing, Sheldon Hume has never seen a season like this. ((CBC))

For some processors, the principal buyers of the Island's lobster catch, it was business as usual. But others, caught up in an international credit crunch that has limited the money they have to buy and facing a market downturn for luxury products such as lobster, have been telling fishermen to limit their catches.

Those in the industry say it's the first time that has happened that they can remember. Some fishermen are being told to catch no more than 500 pounds (225 kg), and others were told Tuesday just to stay at home.

"This is the first time I've ever seen that, and I've been here for 24 years," said Sheldon Hume, who fishes out of North Lake.

"The price doesn't help either."

Coupled with the quotas are prices that are the lowest they've been since 1989: $3.50 a pound ($7.70 kg) for markets and $3 a pound ($6.60 kg) for canners.

Fishermen started bringing in the new season's lobster on Friday, and catches were very good. This year, however, that's not necessarily a good thing. Last year, processors on P.E.I. froze what they couldn't sell immediately and found themselves in January still holding $30 million worth of inventory. They don't want to do that again, so are gauging their capacity to buy as the season progresses.

Bonanza for lobster lovers on the streets of Charlottetown

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Signs like this one in Charlottetown were a treat for lovers of lobster. ((CBC))

While fishermen are wondering how they can even cover their costs in fuel and bait under these conditions, consumers are enjoying what is, once inflation is taken into account, some of the cheapest lobster ever.

While the Superstore was selling lobster for $8.99 a pound ($19.79 kg), or cooked for an extra dollar, finding a better deal was not difficult. In anticipation of low prices and demand this year, the province handed out 31 peddler licences, many of them to fishermen. Trucks could be found around Charlottetown that were selling cooked lobster for $5 a pound.

"It's good," said Elaine Estey of Stratford, who had just bought eight lobsters from the back of a truck.

"But maybe good for us and not so good for the fishermen."

Just a few days into the season, it's difficult to tell what sales will be like this year. Consumers CBC News talked to say they usually get lobster a couple of times a season but that with prices this low, they likely will buy it a lot more often.

Prices could go even lower, as they traditionally do after the Mother's Day weekend.