By Belle Hatfield
For The Vanguard
Quality, price and volume; those are three areas identified by the Lobster Council of Canada as key to addressing widespread woes that have befallen the lobster industry on Canada’s east coast.
Council executive director Geoff Irvine addressed those issues at the annual general meeting of the LFA 34 Management Board, held at the Wesleyan Church in Yarmouth on June 20.
The management board is an elected body that represents lobster licence holders who work from various ports in lobster fishing area 34, which encompasses Yarmouth County and parts of Shelburne and Digby counties. The board manages local lobster issues, including negotiating a selling price with buyers.
Irvine came with a slideshow of statistics and graphs. Perhaps none more important, nor less willingly accepted on local wharves, than the one that reflects the harvesters’ percentage of Boston wholesale prices. Over the last 12 to14 years, Irvine said, lobster fishermen have consistently received around 75 per cent of the wholesale market price.
He challenged fishermen to accept this.
“You can debate it, you can discuss it, but year in, year out the harvester share remains around 75 per cent. We need to work on solutions moving forward from this fact,” he said. “The challenge is how do we drive up that wholesale price so that the 75 per cent that you get is higher.”
That’s where the council is trying to make a difference. Its focus is on marketing, research and advocacy. More work needs to be done on branding the Canadian lobster, he says.
To the fishermen, Irvine hammered home one point. It’s about ‘quality, quality, quality’.
He referred to the issue of soft shell lobster coming ashore in the first weeks of the fall fishery, a problem that reached new heights during last season.
“All that [soft-shell] product that comes at the beginning of the season is really difficult to handle … It really affects our brand position and how people see our lobster,” he said.
Lucien LeBlanc sits on the LFA 34’s pricing committee. The committee is hoping to have a small pilot project running in time for the next season.
“We are looking for areas where the fishermen can do a bit more,” he said.
The main problems are volume and quality at the beginning of the season. One of the ideas, to grade lobsters on board the fishing boats, has met with resistance from harvesters. He acknowledged that within the environment that fishermen are working in those first days of the season, “that is not simple.”
But the benefits might make it worth it in terms of higher prices paid for the graded product, he said.
The committee is hoping to find 10 to 15 fishermen willing to try it.
“If it works, we might be able to implement it across the district,” he said, adding, “We foresee change coming. The status quo isn’t exactly working for us.”