Lobster boom benefiting Nova Scotia's boat-builders

Published on
February 9, 2018

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Nova Scotia Boatbuilders Association (NSBA), and business is booming for the province’s 45 shipyards.

The NSBA’s executive director, Tim Edwards, told SeafoodSource 2016 sales were CAD 105 million (USD 83.3 million, EUR 68 million) for new builds and repairs, and while he is still pulling together data for 2017, revenues should climb 15 percent to reach CAD 120 million (USD 95.1 million, EUR 77.7 million). 

The industry has evolved in the association’s 20-year history, with builders shifting from yachts to fishing and other working boats, Edwards said.

“Most of the work going on in the industry at the moment, and the last couple of years, has been in support of the commercial fishery in Atlantic Canada,” he said. “Ten years ago a lot more of the work was custom yacht building for the American market, but that changed around the time of the recession in 2008. Fortunately for the industry, at the same time the fishery – and in particular the lobster fishery – grew and became healthier and new markets in Asia opened up.” 

The bulk of the fishing boats have to be for Canada’s domestic market because of the impediments put in place by the United States’ Jones Act. The law requires all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried by U.S.-flagged ships that were constructed in the U.S. and owned and crewed by U.S. citizens. 

While the law didn’t apply to yachts, it has cut off most sales to U.S. clients, Edwards said. However, Edwards said if a commercial fishing boat is below a certain size in volume, then it is still possible to build in Canada and successfully export to the U.S.

“Some of the builders are doing that,” he said. “But [exports] certainly slowed down with the strong domestic orders,” leading builders to focus on the domestic market.

Fortunately, there is enough domestic business to keep Nova Scotia shipyards humming

A new generation of fishermen are ordering bigger and more elaborate boats. Spartan working conditions of the past are being replaced by what Edwards describes as “yacht-standard outfit and finish” in vessels with bedrooms, showers, wi-fi, and other amenities. This allows the fisherman to stay longer at sea. Naturally, these more tricked-out boats have pushed the price of a commercial fishing boat up from CAD 300,000 (USD 238,000, EUR 194,300) to between CAD 500,000 and one million (USD 396,700 and 793,400, EUR 323,800 and 647,600)

“Most of the boats all have that because most of them will be gone for two or three days,” Gilles Theriault, managing director of A. F. Theriault and Son Ltd. in Meteghan, said. “They stay out there (fishing) longer because it’s more efficient for them to stay out than to burn fuel coming back and forth.”

Another driver to larger boats, said Theirault, has been the move to “a multi-species vessel. Some of these boats do lobster-scallop, lobster-hand-line, lobster-long line, lobster-gill-net. They multi-species all the time.” 

Multi-species both reduces down time tied to a wharf and is “survival,” Theirault said.

“If one industry crashes, one industry moves forward,” he said.

And moving forward is what the Theriault yard is doing. Even though bigger boats take longer to produce – eight or nine months on average – which is reducing the number of vessels leaving the yard each year, work is up. Five years ago, Theriault employed 160 people. Today the company employs 195 people full-time, year-round.

“It’s due to the whole lobster economy,” he said. “The catches are fine, the prices are fine and the economy is fine; it’s win, win, win.”

Reporting from Eastern Canada

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