A massive catch of lobster in parts of Nova Scotia has stuffed the holding tanks of dealers, causing them to halt purchases and idle the fishermen who are worried about plunging prices for Canada's most valuable seafood export.
"In parts of Nova Scotia over the next three days, the buyers are taking a bit of a break to clear the decks, as it were, so they won't be buying lobster till Thursday or Friday," said Stewart Lamont, owner of Tangier Lobster Co. Ltd., which exports live lobsters to 19 countries from Tangier, N.S.
After a slow start to the season, warm weather has helped the province's lobster boats bring in catches that are much bigger than last year's. The cold-blooded crustaceans are more active and apt to be trapped when the water warms. And fisherman can safely spend more time at sea in good weather, boosting their hauls.
The size of this year's harvest has not been tallied yet, but Mr. Lamont, who buys from about a dozen dealers in Atlantic Canada, said in some areas the catch has been almost double that of last year.
Kevin Squires, a lobster fisherman in Cape Breton's Bras D'Or Lake, stayed ashore on Tuesday but figured he'd be out in his boat on Wednesday.
"At our port, a couple of boats sailed but most of the guys stayed in," said Mr. Squires, adding cold weather in his region has kept him from enjoying the big catches others have seen. His catches are about 20 per cent smaller than last year, even though he has made the same number of outings.
"We didn't have a lot of wind but it's been really cold. Just a late spring and things need to warm up for the animal.
"It seems we're coming up to the temperatures where the larger animals will start moving more readily."
Mr. Squires, who is president of the local branch of Maritime Fisherman's Union, said the glut is a sign Atlantic lobster needs to be better promoted and sold to international buyers.
Lobster season has ended in the biggest producing parts of the province – southwest Nova Scotia and the Atlantic side. However, it is in full swing in other areas, including Cape Breton, New Brunswick, PEI and Newfoundland.
Lobster is Canada's most valuable seafood export. The biggest buyer is the United States, followed by Japan, China, Belgium and France. The landed value of the lobsters caught by the 10,000 licensed fisherman in Quebec and the Maritimes was $662.8 million in 2012, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Nova Scotia fisherman are being paid $4.50 a pound for lobster this year, compared with $3.25 to $3.75 last season. However, the drop in the Canadian dollar against the U.S. currency has eaten up some of the rise in prices.
Fisherman are worried the glut will lead to lower prices, and some have been selling at $4 a pound to processors, who pay less than dealers of live lobsters.
"Everybody appreciates the fish haven't been moving, so the market needs a bit of time to catch up," said Mr. Squires. "We'd just as soon wait rather than put more pressure [on prices]. Our feeling is we'll try to wait it out and then maybe the price won't drop. But the rumour is the price will drop."