Maine urges lobster industry to stop harvesting 'if there is no market'
Call from state official comes as Nova Scotia industry grapples with similar question
In another sign of the crippling impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the Maine lobster industry is being told it must stop landing and buying lobsters where there is no market, a move that comes amid a similar debate in Nova Scotia.
Patrick Kelliher, director of the state's Department of Marine Resources, issued a call Monday for co-operation between fishermen and dealers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Harvesters and dealers must put aside their differences and must actively communicate with each other about the realities of the market," Kelliher said in a notice posted on the department's website.
"Harvesters must refrain from landing products if there is no market for it. Dealers must refrain from buying product for which there is no market in order to minimize loss associated with inventory that can't be sold."
Kelliher said he does not have the authority to close the lobster fishery, but he is working with Maine Gov. Janet Mills to "fully understand what authorities may — or may not exist."
"I can't stress enough that all segments of this industry must co-operate in the short-term," he said.
The Nova Scotia situation
The debate is also taking place in Nova Scotia, where some fishermen's groups have rejected a call from lobster buyers and processors for a temporary halt to all harvesting because of a "collapse" of world markets.
"While we all understand that there are major marketing concerns amid this global pandemic, we also understand we need to protect the rights of harvesters to be able to continue to operate their individual businesses as they see fit," Stephen Bond, co-chair of Lobster Fishery Area 33 Advisory Committee, said in a release.
Bond said the position was taken after consultation with port representatives throughout the fishing area.
Last week, 75 companies belonging to the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance participated in an emergency call to discuss "the current unprecedented market situation."
They want Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans to immediately stop all harvesting in lobster fishing areas 33 and 34, which run from Halifax to Digby. They are the only two areas currently open and supply the biggest share of lobsters caught in Nova Scotia.
The most recent combined annual landings, for the period October 2018 to October 2019, were 27,000 tonnes estimated at $490 million, according to a DFO economic assessment.
Many buyers bought and held lobsters when the price was high — $8 to $10 per pound — only to see the market quickly collapse, first in China and now in Europe and North America.
The situation is poised to worsen in Nova Scotia when lobster fisheries in other parts of the province open this spring, bringing ashore millions of pounds of lobster.