Costs outweigh the catch, lobster fisherman says

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Sam Sheppard

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

Geographic location: York Harbour, Nova Scotia, Western Star

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Recent comments

  • Duffy
    May 24, 2013 - 16:53

    Gee maybe time to get a real job like the rest of us and stop living off EI for 10 months a year.

  • cjl
    May 23, 2013 - 13:35

    If people don't want to pay his asking price, sucks to be him. You cannot force people to pay more than they want to. Dont like it? Dont catch lobster. Why some people think fishing should be handled any differently to other industries is beyond me.

  • Calvin
    May 21, 2013 - 08:35

    What I have to say has nothing to do with the price of lobster, or whether or not these fisherman should move on to a new form of employment. All you people bashing the fisherman and anyone who supports them need to get a life, show a little humanity. Heaven forbid whatever you do for a living should go bottom up next week, you'd be crying all the way to the EI office when they made you take a job for a lot less than you are used to making. And "Business Man", you seem to know very little about the Newfoundland economy for someone with that name. If you think cutting out local fisherman is going to drive the price of lobster DOWN here you are mistaken. Lobster is only valuable LIVE, and if there are no local fisherman supplying the market, then the lobster comes from out of province, along with the shipping costs of shipping live food from the mainland. Cut out the local fisherman and the price of lobster in the province will go up, not down. You all make fun of fisherman for being uneducated, but there isn't an educated arguement amongst you.

    • david
      May 21, 2013 - 12:46

      Eli: Really? In your opinion, Alberta is behind Newfoundland in terms of the general maturity and effectiveness of its politics and electorate? Or was that just a mindless, drive-by quip for laughs? I'd be hard-pressed to find any issue whatsoever on which Alberta could take any lessons from Newfoundland. Oh, and Alberta hasn't gone completely, hair-pullingly bankrupt as a result of softer oil they got that on us, too.

  • Harold
    May 20, 2013 - 13:52

    a fisherman or fisherwoman has every right to ask the maximum for their catch. if people don't want to pay the price, then don't pay, it's as simple as that. i love lobster and most other seafood, i pay the asking price or buy something else. A BUSINESS MAN, for you to say fishing is done by unskilled uneducated workers shows just how uneducated you really are. newfoundlanders get paid less for their catch then fish harvesters in other provinces so maybe you should post your comment in a National news paper and sign your real name.

    • a business man
      May 22, 2013 - 05:59

      regardless of what Newfoundlanders get paid, my point is that they are unskilled uneducated workers and should be paid less. If the job, any job does not require post-secondary education, then I beleive that the job is automatically worth minimum wage for life. That is my opinion as a citizen, and that is how I run my companies. My unskilled uneducated employees hate my position on this issue and I honestly do not care. Some quit, and are easily replaced because there are lots of people who can do the job, and other stay and hate the job because they are unskilled and uneducated and cannot do better. Either way, the labour of an unskilled uneducated man is no longer enough to provide a middle class life, and I am happy about that.

  • Thomas Griffiths
    May 20, 2013 - 08:17

    I find myself somewhat insulted by business man's comment.As a fourth generation fisherman who had no option but leave the fishery in the early 90's for Alberta inorder to feed my family its the ignorance of people such as youself that talk of cutting out small fishing operations so you can buy the product cheaper that can still get my dander up. Cutting out the little guy is what has hurt the fishery in NF and damaged fish habitate beyound repair.As far as a fisherman education goes he is far more skilled and works alot harder than your avergae worker. Your the one that needs the education clearly. I can only hope folks have the same thinking when it comes to whatever service or product you provide or sell. As in the hell with you making a living I just care if its cheap or not.

  • TJ
    May 19, 2013 - 12:55

    Its all about supply and demand, if its not worth it, then find employement else where. Thats the way businesses work! the truth hurts be people need to get real!! These days everyone wants big bucks and do little work for it.

  • original townie
    May 19, 2013 - 10:27

    This is pretty simple....if you are a farmer growing wheat and it cost more to grow than what you can sell it for, it would make sense to plant a different product next year. One where a demand is in the market. This ain't rocket science. Mr. Sheppard, do the math. Don't complain about markets if you continue to make the same mistake year after year. Higher costs vs. sale of product = ?

  • Jay
    May 19, 2013 - 07:49

    Yep, it's probably time to stop.

  • david
    May 18, 2013 - 13:19

    No one is forcing anyone to fish for lobster, last I checked. Grow a pair and make your own, adult decisions....stop whining about how unfair "the world" is and expecting "the government" to save you from every single thing. It's getting really, really, REALLY tiresome.

    • winston Roberts
      May 18, 2013 - 16:37

      David should realize that asking a fair price for lobster is not asking for a government hand-out.. Its pay for a very hard day's work and a large investment. There's quite a difference. True,nobody is forcing them to fish but they have to make a living for thier families. I am not a fisherman but I support them all the way.

    • a business man
      May 19, 2013 - 13:48

      Sorry Winston, you are incorrect. it is a hard day's work done by an unskilled uneducated workers, and is worth very little. I am not interested in their family's well being, I am interested in the price of lobster. Frankly, if the fishermen are not making enough, then they should get a real job. We should be bringing in cheaper labour so that we can drive the price of lobster down. As someone who eats lobster, I want to see the prices fall. Based on the article, I conclude that local labour costs too much, especially considering it is unskilled uneducated workers. I fully support cutting out the local fishermen simply because I want prices to drop. Yes it is a hard day's work, but no one told the fishermen to not go to law school or business school. He made his choice, and now his hard day of work is worth very little in the market place. And I am okay with that. I would not have it any other way.

    • david
      May 19, 2013 - 15:33

      Well, Winston, what do you surmise is the purpose of an article such as this? To solicit mail-in donations from the general public? Everyone works hard and invests money for the sake of their families....blacksmiths did, buggywhip makers did, VCR manufacturers did, etc. etc. How long did you spend crying for them?