Guest Column: Lots of Activities Underway in the Maritime Provinces

Geoff Irvine is the executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada. He is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

It has been the Lobster Council of Canada’s goal since it began in 2010 that we would come to the end of a year and both sides of the lobster fishery sector (harvesting and shoreside interests) would be happy with their financial results. Despite significant progress in many areas, which I believe gets us closer to that goal all the time, we have yet to achieve such a symbiotic breakthrough.
For the shoreside sector (dealers, live shippers and processors) challenges remain: to find adequate labour to extract maximum value from the resource, our strong Canadian dollar, the cost of financing, competitive markets for live and processed lobster products, market access issues that threaten exports to some countries and a procurement model that continues to exasperate many. On the harvesting side, notwithstanding some areas of concern, the Maritime provinces have consistent lobster landings and historically strong shore prices. While landings are down in some LFA’s (Lobster Fishing Areas), ending the annual increases of the last ten years, the overall trend is fairly level on a year-over-year basis, resulting in a regular stream of live lobsters for processors, live shippers and marketers.
Thanks to a federal government that believes in the benefits of international trade (no matter which party is in power), Canada has finalized a trade agreement with the European Union, the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), that provides phased-in tariff relief for Canadian lobster products in a market of 500 million people. At the time of writing this column, negotiations have just been concluded with 11 Pacific Ocean countries to finalize the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and we look forward to enjoying new opportunities in the Pacific region under this trade agreement. Markets in China, South Korea and other Asian countries, the Middle East and Europe continue to expand and provide excellent opportunities for the future. Our goal is to find the appropriate mix of high-value markets and traditional ones to allow our exporters to raise the overall value and return more to everyone in the value chain, which one day will lead to a win/win year for all.
Aside from the internal structural challenges in the lobster industry that we continue to work on, there are two pieces of good news for the Canadian lobster sector to report to our friends, customers and suppliers in the United States: the development of lobster-focused harvester organizations in southwest Nova Scotia and the establishment of the Atlantic Fisheries Fund.
While harvesters in this resource-rich part of Nova Scotia have typically belonged to ground-fish advocacy organizations, there has been a lack of engagement with groups that focus exclusively on the lobster fishery. Advocacy and action is required in dealing with resource management and regulatory changes instituted by federal departments like Transport Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Harvesters must engage with shore-side stakeholders to deal with Marine Stewardship Council conditions so that we can continue to promote our lobster fishery as sustainable in world markets. Market access issues such as lobster conservation, right whale interactions, by-catch monitoring and labour standards all require strong organizations to represent lobster harvesters.
In late 2017 a new organization was formed that involves harvesters from LFAs 33 and 34 (southeast and southwest tip of Nova Scotia) called the Brazil Rock Lobster Association. They join one other lobster-focused group, the Coldwater Lobster Association, and several other multi-species groups including the Maritime Fishermen’s Union Local 9, Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association and Scotia Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association. It is the issue of by-catch monitoring that mobilized harvesters in LFAs 33 and 34 to come together to form an umbrella organization called the Southwest Lobster Science Society that they hope will manage the process of providing observer coverage to collect data. These organizations join with dozens of established harvester groups in the Atlantic provinces who work very hard on behalf of their members; most come together under an umbrella organization called the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters Federation. Having all lobster harvesters in Canada working together within strong organizations is a positive development for the sector.
Buyers, live shippers and processors in Nova Scotia are also building capacity with new leadership from executive director Leo Muise at the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance (formerly the Nova Scotia Fishpackers Association). Other inshore-focused shore-side groups in the Atlantic provinces include the Prince Edward Island Seafood Processors Association, the Nova Scotia/New Brunswick Lobster Processors Association, and the Association of Seafood Producers in Newfoundland and Labrador. The offshore is represented by the Seafood Producers of Nova Scotia and the Fisheries Council of Canada. The Lobster Council of Canada is the umbrella group that brings together harvesting, buying, processing, live shipping and support activities around one table. While this may seem like a powerful number of organizations, it is instructive to note that each has either one or two employees.
The second development of note is the establishment of the Atlantic Fisheries Fund (AFF), a joint provincial ($126 million) and federal ($295 million) program focused on providing funding for fishery innovation, science, and infrastructure. A $30 million earmark from the AFF focuses on marketing and market access that we hope to use to finally fund our marketing strategy for Canadian lobster. More details about the AFF will be announced later in 2018. We look forward to growing the value of Homarus americanus stock, which we share, to the benefit of both Canadian and American industry participants.
With continued capacity-building within organizations and a properly funded marketing and promotion campaign, it is hoped that we will soon achieve the goal of a win/win for all within the Canadian lobster value chain.