Canada is experiencing a shortage of worms.

This year's extreme winter has affected Canada's export of hand-picked earthworms.

The freshwater fishing season is at its height and there is a shortage of quality nightcrawlers, in particular.

Suppliers and wholesalers in Ontario call it the worst worm shortage the industry has seen in more than 25 years.

Worm supplier Alice Haupert, vice president of Mississauga, Ont.-based National Bait, says her business is struggling to keep up with normal demand not only because of the colder weather, but also due to a lack of temporary foreign workers.

She claims the worm shortage numbers in the millions.

"This year, we just can't find enough people to pick worms," Haupert told As It Happens guest host Rick MacInnes-Rae. "It's not exactly the most glamorous job, you know. It's done at night, in the rain. It's a dirty job. It's a hard job. People just don't seem to want to do it anymore."

National Bait rents land and fields and sends crews out to pick the worms.

Every year, about $20 million worth of live worms are shipped to the U.S. They're culled mostly in Ontario, because of the province's exceptionally large and juicy bait.

Plant manager Tuan Huynh operates one of Canada's largest worm wholesale warehouses, Windsor Wholesale Bait in Windsor, Ont.

His company sells Canadian nightcrawlers, plucked from farms from London to Toronto.

The cool spring nights have resulted in fewer worms coming to the surface this year.

Normally, the freezer there holds more than 20 million worms. Today, there are about 5 million.

"Usually, at this time, we’d be full in order to fight the drought in the summer," Huynh said.

Worm Warehouse

The warehouse at Windsor Wholesale Bait in Windsor, Ont., is normally filled with 20 million worms. It's housing 5 million at the moment. (John Van Dusen/CBC News)

Huynh said fishers prefer Canadian nightcrawlers over other worms.

"You can’t find it anywhere else," he said of the large worm. "They are the biggest nightcrawler there is."

They grow up to 20 cm in length and are "about as fat as your pinky," Huynh said.

Huynh said the quality of worms this year is decreased "because the conditions are not conducive to growing their best."

Rise in prices

Huynh said 1,000 worms normally wholesale between $36 and $45. Today, 1,000 are selling for $80.

"A lot of people are shocked. They call other places, they complain, but they understand, the price has gone up because of the weather," Huynh said.

Bill Davies, who owns Wally’s Bait and Tackle in Windsor, has to pass the increase on to the anglers.

"We either eat the cost or put the price up. We’ve ate the cost so long, we had to put the price up two weeks ago," he said. "Nobody likes price increases on anything."