Atlantic Canada’s seafood sectors surged in 2021
In Riverport, on the south shore of Nova Scotia, lobster fisherman Jason Conrad recalls when the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020 and the price of lobster plummeted to $4 a pound – below what it cost him to catch a lobster.
“A lot of days I went fishing just to make sure my deckhand got a paycheck, and I lost money,” Conrad said aboard his boat, Family Tradition 07.
The pandemic is still here, but low prices in the seafood sector are long gone as housebound consumers spend on small luxuries.
Last month, Conrad was earning more than $14 a pound — a sign of the industry’s recovery that began in late 2020.
“He bounced back a lot quicker than I thought he would,” he said.
According to economic data provided to CBC News by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Atlantic Canada’s big-money seafood species rose in value in the second year of the pandemic.
Snow crab is increasing dramatically
DFO has published the quantities and landed values of four main wildlife species caught: lobster, snow crab, sea scallop and halibut.
The figures are for all of 2020 and the first 11 months of 2021. The department said the data is preliminary and there was a discrepancy.
Last year’s values for lobster, halibut and scallops in the Gulf of St. Lawrence were not available.
But the industry pointed up.
In the first 11 months of 2021, the value of snow crab in Newfoundland and Labrador reached $612 million, a 174% increase from the full year of 2020, DFO said.
In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the value of snow crab landings nearly doubled to $310 million.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the value of lobster at the wharf was $82 million, an increase of $38 million or 87%.
In DFO’s Maritimes region, which encompasses the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, sea scallops in 2021 were worth $145 million. That’s an increase of $18 million or 14%, even though landings were six million kilograms lower through November.
The value of halibut landings reported in the Maritimes was $37 million, an increase of 15%.
Record year for lobster
The Maritimes lobster fishery is also on track for a record year.
The 2021 data does not include what was landed in December, which marks the busiest time for the southwestern Nova Scotia lobster fishery – the most lucrative in Canada.
Lobster from the region was valued at $694 million through the end of November 2021, just $2 million less than 2020, which included 11 million kilograms or 24 million pounds more landings for l whole year.
Pierre-Marcel Desjardins, an economics professor at the University of Moncton, said the shellfish sector was able to shift to grocery and retail when the restaurant side of the business collapsed with the closure of restaurants, casinos and cruise ships.
“A lot of consumers stopped going on the trip, but decided they were going to indulge in a few goodies anyway, and lobster and snow crab were among them. So was scallops,” he said.
Although it was a “very, very, very good year for anglers,” Desjardins said not everyone in the industry benefited equally.
More money for repairs, new boats
Yet the increase in landed values is injecting a significant amount of money into the region.
Speaking on behalf of New Brunswick’s large snow crab fleet, Jean Lanteigne of the Acadian Federation of Professional Fishermen said the bonanza has led to a noticeable increase in maintenance, repair and new ships.
“Our shipyard here is actually very, very busy with all kinds of suppliers,” Lanteigne of Shippagan said.
“The Acadian crab fleet is between 30 and 50 years old, so the actual replacement of the fishing boats, they were due for that, and they are very active in buying and building new crabbers. So fiberglass, aluminum and metal shops are extremely busy building boats.”
Everyone in the industry is wondering if the high prices will last after the pandemic is over.
Desjardins is skeptical.
“People will start to travel again. Many consumers who were willing to shell out a large sum to buy snow crab or lobster may not want to do the same once we get back to a new normal,” he said. declared.
“These consumers will have alternatives, and these may be resorts that [they] going to spend their money on or on cruise ships.”
Too early to tell what 2022 will bring
In the short term, the good season seems to be continuing for snow crab fishermen. A main competitor, Alaska, has reduced its snow crab quota by almost 90%.
That leaves Atlantic Canada (and Russia) poised to take advantage as suppliers to North America.
“Our product could be on the upside in 2022. That’s a factor we’re seeing right now. Will it last throughout the year? It’s a bit too early to confirm that,” said said Lanteigne.
Back in Riverport, Conrad makes no apologies for the price increases, which are beyond his control. He said they offset inflation for diesel, bait and lobster traps.
The 33-year-old bought the peach when he was 27 and said the extra money would be used to pay off the debt.
“What I learned with the COVID year is not to spend until the end of the season. What I take away from this experience is not to count your chickens before they hatch,” said he declared.