Volcanic ash spreads shroud on lobster industry

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NEW GLASGOW

Lobsters destined for European markets left stranded in buyer's tanks are sinking shore prices.

Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, said everyone in the whole industry is affected by the delay in shipping as airlines wait for a cloud of volcanic ash that filled European skies April 14 to lift amid warnings there may be more on the way.

"This can't be a good thing for the price but it's too early to say," said Irvine.

"Traditionally the prices are highest this time of year going into the season but traditionally fall once the season gets going."

He said delays are causing a backup of inventory and the loss of thousands of dollars in sales, however lobsters are not spoiling in containers waiting to be shipped.

Europe represents about 15 to 20 per cent of the Canadian lobster market, which is 50 per cent processed and 50 per cent live.

Currently the shore price for market-size lobsters is $4 per pound but with seasons now open on the Eastern Shore and Newfoundland and others opening within the next 10 days prices could drop lower.

"This is a no-win situation, all we can do is hope it doesn't continue," said Irvine.

"The problem is this time of year people are trying to clean up their inventory as the new seasons hit us."

He said it has been a tough season for lobster fishermen in southwest Nova Scotia, and because prices were low throughout the season many harvesters and companies held lobsters on speculation the price would go up but that hasn't happened.

The shipping delays couldn't have come at a worse time said Irvine, with the industry already coping with the stress of a high-value Canadian dollar, about 20 per cent more than it was worth last year at this time. He said the recession also continues to play a role in market access.

On top of that, he said a natural reaction when the price is low is to increase the harvest with fishermen landing more lobster than ever, an increase of about 40 per cent from 2006.

"It's absolutely out of anyone's control," said Irvine. "It shows how fragile we really are.

"All we can do really is wait and push product into other markets we can access and they are working with customers in North America and Asia."

Lobster season on Nova Scotia's east coast from Pugwash to Havre Boucher opens on May 1.

Organizations: Lobster Council of Canada

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Europe, Eastern Shore Newfoundland North America Asia Pugwash

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