Nova Scotia

Low prices could force out some snow crab harvesters

The snow crab industry in Cape Breton is in a world of trouble this year. With the economy tanking and consumers having less money to spend, a price of $2.25 per pound at the wharf may not be enough for some harvesters to continue.

Snow crab prices are $2.25 per pound at the wharf in Cape Breton

Snow crab is seen on a conveyor belt in plastic tubs
Snow crab prices are falling along with consumers demand for luxury items, says a processor. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

The snow crab industry in Cape Breton is in a world of trouble this year and a price of $2.25 per pound at the wharf may not be enough for some harvesters to continue.

The industry is blaming inflation, problems in the economy and consumers having less money to spend.

"You have the U.S. market with bank failures and they are close to a recession," said Osborne Burke, general manager of Victoria Cooperative Fishery Ltd., located in Neils Harbour.

"So that's challenging consumers who are trying to survive higher grocery prices, higher interest rates, and they're not rushing out to have a luxury snow crab dinner."

15-year low

Osborne says it's been 15 years since the at-wharf price was that low.

Factor in the economy issues and very high fuel prices and the number crunching simply isn't working in harvesters favour.

"Overhead, wages, costs, they're all much higher today than they were in 2008," said Burke. "We're just hopeful that it doesn't drop further because it comes to a point where you ask is it feasible to fish or not."

The snow crab season got underway last week in parts of Cape Breton.

For some, heavy ice is making it difficult to get their fishing boats in and out of their local harbours.

Snow crab catch in blue  plastic bins.
Snow crab is unloaded from two fishing boats in Dartmouth, N.S., on Feb. 14, 2000. (The Canadian Press)

The precarious start to the season is suffering a hangover effect from last year. The poor economy, combined with other snow crab from other markets like Norway, meant a lot of snow crab did not sell.

Processors are still trying to figure out what they should do with it.

"Last year when the season started we were paying harvesters as high as $10 [per pound] and then it went down to $8 and eventually by July of last year it was down to $4," said Burke.

"So we now have a lot of expensive product that is still in our inventory and it will have to be sold at a major loss and it's moving slowly and now here we are in a new season."

Some processors are not even buying snow crab right now.

That's keeping some harvesters in some parts of Cape Breton off the water. Burke says he's thankful to be processing at his plant, especially since the facility was heavily damaged in the fall by post-tropical storm Fiona.



Paul Palmeter is an award-winning video journalist born and raised in the Annapolis Valley. He has covered news and sports stories across Nova Scotia for 30 years.