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Lobster season on the Southwest coast

Counts are down in some regions, up in others, and costs to fishers have increased

Lobster fisher Steven Stagg says counts are down this year. – © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press

By Jaymie L. White

Special to Wreckhouse Press Inc.

PORT AUX BASQUES – Lobster is king on the Southwest Coast, so it’s not surprising that a lower catch quota is going to have a significant impact. Lobster fisherman Steven Stagg, said counts are definitely down from the past two or three years.

“It’s down, 25 to 30 per cent here for sure I’d say. It’s not the lowest I’ve seen it. Years ago I’ve seen it a lot lower than what it is now.”

Stagg said lobster is going for about $9 a pound, which is on par with what it has been previously,and he hopes it remains that way.

“Hopefully when catches are down the prices stay because it usually drops off after a few weeks.”

When coupled with the current economic climate, the lower catch is having an impact.

“Price of bait is doubled, price of gas is pretty nearly doubled, and lobsters are down.”

Jason Spingle, Inshore Staff Representative (West Coast, Northern Peninsula & Labrador) for Fish Food & Allied Workers Union (FFAW), said annual fluctuations are very common in the lobster fishery.

“With lobster the receipt is going to the buyer, so unlike a catch quota where there’s monitoring, it takes a little longer to get the data. Certainly, on the South Coast, from Port aux Basques right on over towards Burgeo, the catch is down so far this year. We’re still only a little past the midway point, so there’s still opportunity to see changes, so you really can’t speculate until the end of the season. We’ve seen that before in areas, but so far, I think it’s fair to say that catch rates are down, but you wouldn’t want to speculate on anything other than that at this point.”

While numbers may be down on the Southwest Coast, that’s not the case for everyone.

“I know harvesters in the Crabbes River Area, southern Bay St. George.It wasn’t bad, but they were down more than the Southwest Coast was the last two years, and now they’re up this year, so you see these area fluctuations. I’m hearing in the far north that they’re looking at the best start they’ve ever had to their fishery ever, in 14B which is Port aux Choix North, right to the northern extremity of where they fish, down around Flower’s Cove, Savage Cove, and those areas. The only guarantee in the fishery is that things can change and change quickly.”

Spingle said numerous factors could be contributing to the lower catch numbers.

“What’s going on above the ocean, we can track that pretty good. What’s going on under the water could be a change in current,tides, temperatures, that could affect how lobsters are behaving, feeding. You could have some migration issues. They aren’t known for being overly migratory, but these are all factors. And there’s a lot we don’t understand about lobsters, but we’re working toward getting more information.”

Spingle doesn’t believe overfishing to be a significant issue that could be contributing to lower catch numbers because of the preventative measures in place.

“Lobster is managed by an effort control. Number of traps with a specific maximum size of a trap for harvesters, and number of days. Then you have measures like size. There’s a minimum size of 82.5 mm carapace. Egg bearing females must be released. These are the measures that are there to prevent overfishing. They’ve been in place for a longtime. I don’t see anything that has changed this year versus the last two or three years.”

Even though no system is perfect, Springle doesn’t see poaching to be a significant problem for the lobster fishery either.

“Any poaching is not good, but I think it’s policed well by DFO. I think self-policing is a factor, and I don’t think there’s any scale that would impact conservation of the resource, any type of poaching in any of our fisheries right now really. For me to say someone doesn’t set a trap or two and take a meal of lobsters or something like that, I won’t profess to say that doesn’t happen, but I think it’s pretty minimal these days and I think it’s less and less because of the consequences and because of how important the resource is. People are making sure that’s not tolerated.”

One thing Spingle said needs to be taken into consideration, is the fact that smaller lobsters aren’t being caught with commercial gear.

“The traps don’t catch really small lobsters. That’s the thing about commercial fisheries. The really small fish is what keeps supplying you, and commercial gear doesn’t target really small fish. A two-pound lobster doesn’t just grow up like a dandelion. It takes a few years to get there. The question is, how many small lobsters are out there. This is the question and we don’t have a lot of good data on this, but the little bit of work that was done on the West Coast, work done by a scientist, suggested there was a lot of small larvae and such.”

Regardless of why the numbers are down, the lower catch numbers absolutely have an impact on the fishery.

“If you take 30 per cent off anyone’s income, well that’s a big deal and that’s money out of the economy. The only thing I can say is that the value of lobsters to harvesters is up probably 25 to 30 per cent this year, so we’ve had the best prices we’ve ever seen this time of year. That is certainly going to help. At the end of the day, as I always say in conversations with people, no one pays their car bill or their mortgage or their grocery bill with pounds of fish. How much money you make is what counts. That’s for sure.”

Despite the lower numbers this year, Spingle believes projections are still positive.

“I think they are still good. I would have to say they’re still good. I think it’s fair to say catches are down some from last year, but last year was the best year we ever saw,so they’re not down as much from two years ago for most people, so it’s still really good.”

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