Nova Scotia

Lobster population deemed healthy in eastern N.S. as uncertain season begins

A Department of Fisheries and Oceans stock assessment has found the lobster population from Halifax to northern Cape Breton is strong.

'We can't help but be pleased, to take some pride,' says Cape Breton fisherman

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lobster industry in Nova Scotia. (CBC)

More than 500 lobster fishermen in northern Cape Breton will set their traps Friday as a season unlike many others opens.

The COVID-19 pandemic has depressed the market and there are fears about what that will do to prices.

But biologically speaking, the fishery in what is known as Lobster Fishing Area 27 is in great shape, according to the latest stock assessment of the seven LFAs in eastern Nova Scotia that run from Halifax to the tip of northern Cape Breton.

Fishermen in eastern Nova Scotia are catching more lobster per trap, which the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said is a sign the biomass is growing. The assessment said the fishing effort in LFAs 27 to 32 is sustainable and poses no threat to the stock.

"It's really nice to hear some good news, that's for certain," said LFA 27 lobster fisherman Kevin Squires.

"We can't help but be pleased, to take some pride that the harvesters have had the initiative to continue to support the conservation measures that have been installed a few years ago with raising the minimum size."

Conservation efforts

In several of the districts, the DFO assessment notes, fishermen have implemented conservation measures that include raising the minimum size of lobster caught and setting trap limits lower than those dictated by the federal government.

Fishermen are also V-notching — a mark on the tail flipper to identify and protect breeding females, which are put back in the water.

The stock assessment period ends at the end of 2018.

A DFO economic assessment released last fall reports on the economic impact of the fishery in eastern Nova Scotia. In LFA 27, record landings of 5,861 tonnes in 2018 were valued at $85 million, and 1,270 people were employed in the industry.

The other districts generated total employment for 1,011 people, with 2018 landings from LFAs 28-32 valued at $78 million.

Uncertainty in 2020

While pleased with the DFO assessment, Squires is worried about what happens Friday, which is also the opening day for the large Gulf of St. Lawrence lobster fishery in three provinces.

"We're scheduled to set our traps on Friday and along with over 3,000 other boats," said Squires. "Everybody is fearful that if too much product goes on the market too fast there'll be a price collapse that we'll suffer from for years."

Processors have warned about depressed demand for lobster caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and their ability to process it at plants where physical distancing will reduce productivity on the line.

So far, prices at the wharf in Nova Scotia have held in recent weeks as demand ticked up from Asia and bad weather reduced landings in areas where fishing is underway.

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