BY ANDY WALKER
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has turned thumbs down on a request from the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association for a short extension to the season in the Island’s major lobster fishing area.
Heavy seas and high winds kept fishermen in Area 24 in port for several days, especially during the critical first weeks of the season.
Encompassing the north side of the province, the season there accounted for a record 14.5 million pounds in 2010. That amount exceeded the combined catches of the spring and fall seasons on the south side of the province.
The association’s request would certainly have to be termed modest. The season closed June 30 and they wanted the extension to July 2 – a mere two days. This is by no means the first time DFO has turned thumbs down on such a request, both for Island fishermen and in other areas across the region.
Area 24 fishermen actually lost more than two days due to weather, so the season would still have been shorter than the parameters laid down when the licences were granted. However, it appears flexibility is not a word in the DFO lexicon when it comes to such issues.
There is no question Area 24 fishermen could have used the extra time on the water. Prior to the season there was a great deal of cautious optimism within the Island industry. The world economy, which drove prices down in late 2009 and 2010, seemed to be on the rebound. Processing inventories were rumoured to be low. (It is hard to get accurate reading since processors are reluctant to share specific information on their company.)
Despite the closure of the largest processor, Ocean Choice International, there were plenty of buyers on the wharf. But the colder water and missed fishing days meant there were less lobsters for them to buy.
The price remained below the $5-mark for market lobster at the beginning of the season. In fact, for the first two weeks of the season, fishermen were frustrated at the lack of a shore price.
The price for market lobster stayed around the $4.50 a pound mark. Association president Mike McGeoghegan said fishermen selling to the Boston market south of the border were receiving in excess of $5 American. Given the fact the two currencies are now virtually at par (the Canadian dollar was actually slightly more for much of the spring) and that much of the Island catch eventually goes to the American market, the veteran fishermen said Island prices should also be over the $5 mark.
The two-day extension may not have been the difference between balancing the books and going into the red for most fishers. There are only a set number of days allowed in the season.
Still, the department could have been more flexible in allowing the extension since the two days would still have meant less time on the water than the season called for.