COMMENTARY: Alliance defends prices paid to lobster fishermen

Published June 4, 2018 - 6:54pm

I am writing on behalf of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance, in response to the editorial reprinted from the Charlottetown Guardian in Friday’s Chronicle Herald complaining about the price Prince Edward Island lobster fishermen are getting in 2018 for their lobster.

The Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance represents many Nova Scotia lobster buyers and processors, some of whom buy lobsters in P.E.I.

In this business everyone must be optimistic at the beginning of the season. Otherwise, you would not survive. There are so many unknowns at the onset of a season that cannot be easily controlled or predicted. Will the lobsters be there, what will the quality, yield, and size of the catch be? How about the weather? What is the exchange rate for the U.S. dollar? Can I get crew and plant workers? These are all factors that affect profitability. It is understandable that when circumstances negatively affect the bottom line people are disappointed. Harvesters do not have a monopoly on frustration.

The price of seafood has fluctuated following the basic economic concept of supply and demand ever since harvesters began selling their catch. This is no different for other food items. Prices can move up or down based on the latest food trend, production costs, new product development or convenience, and regional or national availability.

Lobster, long considered a luxury food, is in demand, but at a price. In the past year or so we have seen major chain restaurants and others drop lobster from their menus.

The suggestion of collusion among buyers to increase profit at the expense of fishermen is ridiculous and quite honestly insulting. Hundreds of buyers and processors compete for product every day. It is well documented that, on occasion, harvesters have switched buyers for as little as 25 cents a pound.

The idea that price collusion is even possible between multiple companies operating in multiple communities competing for a product that is harvested by thousands of independent harvesters stretches the imagination. Multiple buyers in every season and district guarantees competitive prices are paid.

Harvesters everywhere are to be commended for their efforts to ensure the highest quality product is landed. I do take exception, however, with the statement that the fishermen are progressive and innovative while companies are the laggards and foot draggers. In Nova Scotia, lobster buyers and processors have invested millions of dollars in their holding, processing and shipping infrastructure and staff.

Each lobster is graded as soon as it enters the plant, ensuring it is sent to the appropriate market. Land-based holding facilities circulate the cleanest ocean water available by controlling the water quality and temperature. Staff monitor and adjust conditions around the clock. In Nova Scotia, the government has mandated lobster quality handling training for every company.

P.E.I. harvesters are hardly going it alone to develop markets. Individual companies as well as the Lobster Council of Canada have developed websites, videos and other promotional material and yearly attend seafood trade shows in places like Boston, Brussels, Asia and at home in Canada, all with the goal of promoting the product to everyone’s benefit. Governments spend additional millions of dollars promoting Canadian seafood products through trade offices and promotions in most major countries.

Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance member companies also invest in the transport of lobsters to markets half a world away. The logistics of sending a live product no longer in its natural habitat to a market in the U.S., Europe and Asia is not without its technical challenges and costs. The retailer or food service provider also must prepare the product for final sale. Every step increases cost and the harvester still receives the largest individual percentage.

Developing profitable markets at home and overseas, finding the human and capital resources needed to service these marketplaces, and establishing transportation links to support our valued customers is what members of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance do daily.

Nova Scotia seafood is valued all over the world. Working together and with harvesters and others, our member companies provide high-quality, reliable, safe and healthy seafood products that are good value for the customer. The men and women of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance are contributing to the well-being of all Nova Scotians by creating jobs in our coastal and rural communities by fairly compensating our harvesters for their hard work and by contributing to the social fabric of our communities.

Leo Muise is executive director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance.

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