The problems of the crab industry threaten to spill over into lobsters

The difficulties the snow crab industry has faced this year could affect the price lobster fishermen are paid for their catch in Area 25.

About 400 fishermen from New Brunswick will set sail in Northumberland Sound on Tuesday as the fall lobster fishery begins.

While last year’s season was exceptional thanks to historically high lobster prices, it’s more of a sense of anxiety that haunts lobster fishermen today.

And they are worried not only about the increase in fuel and bait costs. The point is that the difficulties the crab industry has faced this year could affect the price lobster fishermen get for their catch, explains Luc LeBlanc, fisheries adviser for the Union of Marine Fishermen (UPM).

“The guys are a little nervous,” starts Mr. LeBlanc. Crab processors were caught buying snow crab at a relatively high price early in the season, and weak demand in US markets made it difficult for them to sell their products.”

Since some crab processing plants also process lobster, Mr. LeBlanc fears that many of them do not have the money to buy lobster.

In addition, much of the processed crab is still stored in freezers. Therefore, these plants may not have the necessary space to store the lobsters they will process, worries Luc LeBlanc.

Challenges for processors

Nathanael Richard, director of the Association of Lobster Marine Processors (ATHM), confirms that the fears felt by lobster catchers are not unfounded. Lobster processors face many challenges this year.

About a third of ATHM members also process snow crab.

“Indirectly, the difficulties with crab are undermining both industries. They have serious problems with the movement of crab stocks. Factories can no longer buy and process without being able to sell their products. At some point it causes cash flow problems,” says Mr Richard, adding that not all plants have these problems.

The problem of storage is also very real, he confirms. Crabs are usually sold as they are processed, so the question of storage does not arise. This year, some plants may struggle to buy lobster due to lack of storage space after processing.

“From April to May, I keep hearing about storage issues both locally and in our export markets like the United States. This is not a problem that will be solved anytime soon,” says Nathanael Richard.

Falling demand?

And if that weren’t enough, some indicators suggest that Americans’ usual appetite for lobster may not be there. From week to week, the selling price of lobster continues to decline, Mr. Richard notes.

In 2021, 86% of Canadian lobster exports will find buyers in the United States. The total value of exports that year reached 3.2 billion.

“This year we have seen good demand for frozen products – cooked or raw in the shell – in Europe and Asia, but overall it is a small part of our exports,” explains Nathanael Richard. Unfortunately, when the US market, our dominant market, dries up, it affects everyone.

Faced with such low demand, which is likely to increase, several processors have decided to temporarily shut down between the Zone 23 and Zone 25 fishing seasons.

“Some plants have no choice but to be cautious because they are facing serious problems,” explains Mr Richard. If one is not careful in a year like this, it can have serious consequences.”

Despite the slowdown since this spring, Luc LeBlanc is hopeful that anglers can get out of the game.

“Will it be a disaster? Maybe not, but it will depend on the price. In terms of resources, we hope so. There are no signs that she is unhealthy, but we won’t know for sure until we pull the traps out of the water. We have concerns especially at the level of markets.

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