Canada

Maritimes fishermen hit hard by economic uncertainty

Fishermen in Atlantic Canada are being hit hard by the economic uncertainty, which has consumers jittery and cutting back on luxury items such as lobster.

Fishermen in Atlantic Canada are being hit hard by the economic uncertainty, which has consumers jittery and cutting back on luxury items such as lobster.

Prices of lobster from the Maritimes fell to their lowest in years even though the fishing season has been under way only for about a month.

Fishermen on the south side of the Bay of Fundy are getting $4 a pound for their catch, compared with $5 to $7 a pound they were commanding last fall. Fishermen in the United States are worse off, commanding $2 US a pound, which makes lobster cheaper than a hamburger.

"This is the first time …I've seen prices this low," said Portland, Me.-based wholesaler Peter McAleney, who has been in the business for 20 years.

Ed Frenette, executive director of the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association, said at Canada's $4-a-pound rate, some fishermen on the island will find it difficult to stay in business, particularly those on the Northumberland Strait, where the fishing has been poor for years.

"If it goes below $4 a pound, you're going to see some hardship everywhere — from southwest Nova to all of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, and Newfoundland and the Bay of Fundy."

Twenty years ago, fishermen like John Dixon could made a good, even lucrative living from fishing, but that's no longer the reality.

"You may break even, if you're lucky enough to have enough money to pay your bills," he said.

The recent credit crunch has also made it harder for processors to get loans, resulting in fewer places for fishermen to sell their catch.

The for-sale ads for lobster licences and boats are increasing, but not many are getting offers.

Another major concern is what will happen in late November when about 40 per cent of Atlantic Canada's lobsters are landed off the southwestern coast of Nova Scotia.

Denny Morrow, executive director of the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association, said the recent weakness in the Canadian dollar will help ease exports into the U.S., but that competitive advantage will mean nothing if there is no demand.

With files from the Canadian Press

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