In 1990, the 'lobster money' wasn't what it used to be out east

They weren't exactly running out of lobsters, but they weren't getting enough money for the ones they were pulling out of the sea.

Falling lobster prices came at time when supply wasn't scarce -- demand was

Cheap lobster no bargain for some

32 years ago
Duration 2:48
In 1990, falling lobster prices weren't a good thing for fishermen and fish retailers on Canada's east coast. 2:48

They weren't exactly running out of lobsters, but they weren't getting enough money for the ones they were pulling out of the sea.

That was the problem Canadian lobster fishermen were facing back in the spring of 1990, when prices had fallen to half what they were a year earlier.

Two men are seen working on a lobster fishing boat near Graham's Pond, P.E.I., in 1990. (The National/CBC Archives)

"It's another shock for the Atlantic fishing industry," the CBC's Susan Ormiston reported on The National on May 10, 1990.

Ormiston explained that so-called "lobster money" had helped provide a good living for many families out east, but she noted "its success has also been its undoing."

The CBC's Susan Ormiston is seen reporting from a lobster boat in P.E.I. in May 1990. (The National/CBC Archives)

Over time, the lobster catch had grown bigger and so had its earnings.

But as Ormiston explained, there was less lobster being sold — in part because a combination of trade barriers and a high Canadian dollar had hurt U.S.-bound exports.

'Catchy promotional campaigns'

A promotional sign advising consumers that "the lobsters are coming" is seen in 1990. (The National/CBC Archives)

And unfortunately for the lobster industry, the individual crustacean consumer wasn't making up for the drop in sales.

"People aren't buying so much lobster. In spite of a glut, it's still relatively high-priced," said Ormiston.

A person wearing a lobster costume is seen in Calgary in 1990. (The National/CBC Archives)

"That could change: The industry is trying to attract more lobster lovers with catchy promotional campaigns," Ormiston said, as viewers saw visuals of a human in a lobster costume shown on screen.

"The consumer could be the winner." 

For sure, the industry was doing its part to put more lobsters on more dinner plates.

"You're going to be able to walk into your supermarkets and get some pretty fine, down-home Atlantic product at, you know, yesteryear's prices," said Alan Baker, a member of a P.E.I.-based seafood industry association.

Out in Halifax, an executive at Clearwater Fine Foods saw a silver lining in the price adjustment.

"It's healthy, I still say it's healthy — it's healthy for the industry," said Clearwater vice-president Colin MacDonald, who believed prices had become too inflated.

MacDonald predicted the market would "panic" but eventually bring the price back up over time.

Lobster leads The National

What will Ottawa do for the lobster industry?

32 years ago
Duration 2:27
The National reports on measures Ottawa was taking to help the lobster industry in 1990. 2:27

The National was back on the lobster beat a day later — leading the broadcast with it, in fact — when the CBC's Denise Harrington was reporting on what Ottawa was doing to help Canada's lobster industry.

Federal Fisheries Minister Bernard Valcourt had met with ministers from Quebec and the Atlantic provinces and made headway on a $2.4-million plan to market Canadian lobster.

"There will be ads and other measures to boost sales of lobster, especially outside the eastern United States — Atlantic Canada's traditional market," Harrington reported.

Valcourt said the promotional efforts were necessary to boost sales and thus consumption of lobster.