When 50-year-old lobster fisherman Albert Sampson wrapped up the season a few weeks ago, he was pretty pleased with the results. During an intense two month season working 12- to 14-hour days, six days a week, in the high winds off the southeast coast of Cape Breton Island, he and his crew of two deckhands brought in $500,000-worth of lobster. This year, Mr. Sampson got an average price of $8 a pound for his catch, after averaging about $5.75 to $6 a pound last year.
"I think it's been a banner season price-wise for anybody in the Maritimes," says Mr. Sampson, who has been fishing lobster for 20 years. "I hope it stays the same next season."
Mr. Sampson is one of thousands of lobster fishermen across Atlantic Canada who have benefited from high lobster prices in 2016. In a region where jobs can be hard to come by, especially in rural areas where the majority of lobster fishermen live and fish out of, the increase in lobster prices is welcome news.
A combination of factors has driven the price increase, says Ian MacPherson, executive director of the PEI Fishermen's Association. The weakness of the Canadian dollar has helped boost demand for Atlantic Canadian lobster, and that's driven up the price for the product, he says. There also wasn't much lobster inventory on the market when the spring season began. Another factor that is driving up prices is that new markets – Asia in particular – are pining for lobster and willing to pay a premium for it.
According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, there are 45 lobster fisheries throughout the Atlantic provinces and Quebec and about 10,000 licensed harvesters. The vast majority of them are like Mr. Sampson, who owns and operate small boats and hires between three and five deckhands for the season. The length of the season varies depending on what fishing area – referred to as an "LFA" – the fishermen have a licence for. It can range from year-round to a mere eight weeks.
Mr. Sampson fishes in what's known as LFA 30. This season, he says, he landed 70,000 pounds of lobster. "A few years ago, we were lucky to catch 20,000 pounds," he says. The extra income has allowed him to splurge a little in a business where the costs (bait, equipment, insurance, boat payments and labour) are high. Mr. Sampson says he has invested some of the extra revenue into buying different fishing licenses – tuna, snow crab and groundfish. He's also using some of it to prepare for life after fishing. "I'm putting some of the money away for retirement because there is no pension in fishing," Mr. Sampson says.
But it's not just lobster fishermen who benefit from the high price of their catch. Bernie Berry, a lobster fisherman from Milton Highlands, N.S., says the impact of a great lobster season trickles down to other small businesses as well.
Mr. Berry fishes in LFA 34 in southwestern Nova Scotia. He says the annual catch here has been between 55 to 60 million pounds in recent years. Like many other lobster fisheries in Atlantic Canada, the catch was strong this season and prices were high. He says the average lobster price was around $6.50 a pound during the area's six-and-half-month-long season. Mr. Berry says two or three years ago, the area's 950 license holders were getting just $3.75 to $4 a pound. "It's a big deal," Mr. Berry says. "There is more money to spend. It doesn't matter if it's a car dealership or other small businesses, everybody benefits."
One sector that is benefiting in particular from a strong lobster fishery is boat building. "That has really sprung to life because of the added money being brought in and people looking to upgrade their boats," Mr. Berry says. "Some boat shops around here have orders for at least the next four years."