© TC Media file photo
By Cory Hurley
TC Media—York Harbour
With 50 years fishing experience behind him, Sam Sheppard wonders what’s in store for the province’s lobster industry.
The York Harbour man still fishes part-time with his son Sheldon, but says it is difficult to make money with the prices buyers are offering for lobster.
Fishermen were getting a little more than $3.40 per pound last week, according to Sheppard, and the price is diminishing weekly. For 100 pounds of catch in a day, Sheppard said they can get about $350. He said bait — at 50-60 cents per pound — costs about $150, and gas costs about $75 a day. The remaining $125 is divided between the two-man crew, unless there are maintenance costs that must be taken care of. Not much, he said, for a hard day’s work on the water.
“Everything is going up, but the price of lobster is going down,” he said.
Again this year, fishermen stayed off the water to protest the low offer from buyers in the beginning of the season. However, when the best possible price seemed to be offered, fishermen took to the seas.
Sheppard says he doesn’t know what will happen nor what to suggest to change the bleak fate of the industry other than a higher price from buyers.
“In all my years of fishing, I never thought it would come down to you not being able to sell a lobster,” he said Wednesday evening via telephone from his home.
In other Atlantic provinces fishermen are protesting low prices by staying off the water, but Sheppard said that is not a long-term option here. He said fishermen in Nova Scotia bring in up to 150,000 pounds of lobster a year, whereas local fishermen strive for 4,000-6,000 pounds a season.
No matter the price offered, he said fishermen here are forced to go on the water in order to collect employment insurance throughout the year.
Some lobster fishermen are selling their own catch
Sheppard said he hasn’t done that, and said not everybody can. He said there is a market for so many hundred pounds of lobster locally, but there are thousands of pounds of lobster being hauled ashore.
“That’s all right for two or three fellers,”
he said. “But, if all hands goes and sells local, who is going to buy it?”
He admits fishermen who sell for themselves make a tidy profit, but he said selling for up to $6 a pound on a parking lot is a bit astonishing when stores have been offering sales for as low as $5.49 a pound. There is an element of supporting local fishermen, but such a high price can also be a deterrent to the local market.
Sheppard said buyers need to offer at least $4-$4.50 per pound for fishermen to make a worthwhile wage. If the price stays low, he said, there is talk of closing the fishery altogether.
As local fishermen age, that could very well be the fate of the industry in this province anyway, he said. There is no way a young fisherman would be able to buy a boat, invest in traps and other necessities, and be able to earn a living in the current circumstances.
The Western Star