Two of Eastern Canada’s largest shellfish fisheries – snow crab and lobster – have performed well so far in 2019.
The snow crab fishery – which mostly wrapped up at the end of June – saw solid prices and strong demand for its products, despite the continued suspension the Marine Stewardship Council’s certification that started in March 2018. Lobster – which recently had a season start on Prince Edward Island – has also seen positive landings and sales partially buoyed by the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China.
“The fishing is going well, it’s been a good season so far,” Geoff Irvine, the executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, told SeafoodSource.
Eastern Canada’s main competitor in the lobster market is the U.S. state of Maine, which catches the vast majority of lobster harvested in the U.S. The state’s season started off slowly, and some processors in Canada have had to adjust to the smaller supply of lobster.
“The processors up here that usually buy Maine lobster haven’t been able to get as much as they usually do,” Irvine said.
Maine has also had to face a potential bait shortage, something many fishermen were bracing for back in March. According to Irvine, that issue has been less of a problem for most fishermen in Canada.
“It’s a different environment here, in that the fishermen in general are used to using different baits,” he said. “They’re not as dependent on herring as the Maine guys are.”
Canadian fishermen use a variety of different bait products and adjust frequently. The only concern, Irvine said, is price.
“I haven’t heard many shortages. But it’s more expensive, and nobody wants to pay more for the bait,” he said.
The bulk of Canadian fishing ended at the end of June, with a continued trend of lobster moving further north showing up. Newfoundland landings, according to Irvine, were higher than ever. “We’re seeing that trend of lobsters moving further north.”
Tor Conklin, CEO of Fisher King Seafoods in Halifax, Nova Scotia, said the landings in Maine coming in are down by around 30 percent.
“Inventory holdings are uncharacteristically low for this time of year,” he said. “Many processors are behind on commitments and hoping for increased landings out of Maine to mitigate the year-to-date drop in supply.”
The market for tails and meat, he said, is “extremely active, with prices edging up weekly.”
“Canadian landings appear on par with last year but whole cooked lobster and live exports are much higher than 2018,” he said.
The snow crab fishery, despite facing its own set of challenges, has also been steady and strong. Ongoing efforts to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale have really only affected harvesters, according to Peter Norsworthy, the executive director of the Affiliation of Seafood Producers Association of Nova Scotia (ASPANS).
“The impact has been more on the harvest side, it's been quite inconvenient for the fishermen with the area closures, having to move the pots all the time,” he said. “It’s resulted in a slow-down of the landings, we don’t see the large gluts and peaks that we’ve traditionally seen.”
The MSC suspension, as well, hasn’t hindered sales too much.
“I think things moved through the system fairly well. Other than a couple of hiccups from key U.S. clients who require the MSC, it’s had a minor impact,” Norsworthy said.
While prices took the normal dip at the start of the season, as trade with countries with high demand – particularly China – ramped up, prices rose and stabilized at a solid level, according to Norsworthy.
Currently, there’s very little inventory at most processors and traders, he added.
“None at the processor level, they’re sitting on very little, much less than they normally would at this time of year,” Norsworthy said. “The traders wouldn’t be sitting on it, they got burned last year when the prices dropped, so they wouldn't want to be doing that again.”
Conklin said sales of snow crab have been robust and corroborated the low processor inventories.
“Pricing and demand has remained strong all season. Snow crab inventories held by processors are the lowest we have witnessed in recent years,” he said. “We are also getting the same feedback from importers and master distributors. It has been widely reported that there were more promotions at the retail level, but we have reports of double-digit growth in snow crab sales this season from larger full-line distributors as well.”
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