'Like a funeral': Fisherman laments tanking prices in once-lucrative lobster fishery
Lobster harvesters first of inshore group to take to water during pandemic — but demand has cratered
Lobster harvesters are the first of the inshore group who'll get out on the water in what is shaping up to be one of the most challenging years on record in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has set opening dates for the lobster fishery from May 1 to May 6, depending on the area of the province where harvesters live. According to DFO, there are 2249 lobster license holders but not all are active.
Preston Grandy, 40, has been catching lobsters since he was just a boy.
On Saturday, he'll leave his wharf in Garnish on the Burin Peninsula and set his pots, a task he'd normally take on with pure enthusiasm.
"Usually setting day for me for lobsters, it's just like Christmas morning for a kid. But this year it's almost like a funeral. I've got no desire to even go down to the wharf,'' said Grandy.
The market for seafood in the United States has tanked because of the fear of COVID-19. Restaurants and casinos are closed and cruise ships are docked. All are big buyers of high-end seafood like lobster from Newfoundland and Labrador.
With lower demand this season, the price harvesters will fetch, $3.25 per pound, is the lowest some of them have ever seen in their time on the water.
Grandy said the lobster fishery had recently become a lucrative bright light, with the average price over the past three seasons $8.18 per pound.
"It took us a long time to get where we are now, or where we were, and now we're gone backwards 10 years," said Grandy.
He's worried that a hangover from this global pandemic could haunt harvesters for the next few seasons.
"If they flood the market now, with the very low demand, and put too much product on the market, then that takes a while for that supply to run out before the demand actually gets back up there again. So it will be a few years before the market actually rebounds," said Grandy.
The crushing financial pressure is one factor this season; the other is the constant worry about the spread of a highly contagious virus among crew, family and community.
Grandy has two boats for lobster fishing. His father and son fish together on one and Preston fishes with a crew member from St. John's on the other. The capital city has been the hotspot for the coronavirus in Newfoundland so Grandy wasn't taking any chances.
"I got my crew member to come out in the middle of March so he could do two weeks' quarantine before he even come around us. That way, we knew then he was good to go, to be in our bubble," said Grandy.
Grandy says this year's goal will be survival — both physical and financial.
He wants to work enough weeks so that he and his crew members qualify for employment insurance and are taken care of for the winter.
For this season, at least, the lobster fishery's bright light has gone out.
"Time I takes out my fuel, my bait and everything else that goes along with it, this year I figure I'd be lucky if I break even."