Nova Scotia

Lobster stock healthy, not overfished in Canada's richest fishing ground

A new report from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans indicates the lobster stock off southwestern Nova Scotia is healthy.

Assessment used commercial landings, several independent trawl surveys to evaluate stock status

A Nova Scotia lobster boat leaves the wharf loaded down with traps. (CBC)

The lobster population in Canada's most important harvesting area is healthy and not overfished, according to a new scientific assessment released by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The 20,000-square-kilometre fishing ground off southwestern Nova Scotia and into the Bay of Fundy, known as Lobster Fishing Area 34, accounts for 20 per cent of all lobster landed in Canada and 10 per cent of North American landings.

"The stock is considered to be in the healthy zone. Furthermore, as the relative fishing mortality is below the removal indicator in all four survey indices, overfishing is not occurring," the report concluded.

The latest assessment, which ended in 2019, used commercial landings and several independent trawl surveys to evaluate the stock status.

According to the Nova Scotia government, the province exports $2.3 billion in seafood products to 80 countries, with lobster being the highest value export. (CBC)

One of four survey indexes — an inshore trawl survey — showed a modest decline in the number of harvest-size lobsters, known as the commercial biomass, in the previous two years. Another small dip was recorded in the number of lobsters reaching reproduction age, known as recruitment. But levels in the survey remained high compared to long-term trends.

Dramatic increase in landings

In fact, the assessment paints a picture of a sustainable fishery.

Multiple trawl surveys revealed that lobster in LFA 34 "were more evenly distributed across a much broader range of habitats than previously reported" and "show exceptionally high commercial biomass since 2010," the assessment said.

Fishing boats loaded with traps head from port in West Dover, N.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, at the start of lobster season on the South Shore. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Landings have increased 600 per cent since 1980. They rose after 2000 and hit a record high of 29,113 tonnes in the 2015-16 season. The landed value in LFA 34 that season was over $400 million.

Sources of uncertainty

The assessment did not provide detail or comment on stock status in the St. Marys Bay portion of LFA 34 , which is the location of a contentious First Nations lobster fishery led by the Sipekne'katik band.

As with every species stock assessment, the scientists reported sources of uncertainty, including whether the current level of productivity is sustainable and what effect environmental changes will have on the stock. 

"The impact of changing climate on lobster biology, physiology, and phenology (life-cycle events) have been studied, but the long-term effects are not known," the report stated.



Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.