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Crab industry woes threaten to spill over to lobster

The difficulties experienced by the snow crab industry this year could affect the price paid to lobster fishermen for their catches in Area 25.

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

Even though last year’s season was exceptional thanks to historically high lobster prices, it is rather a feeling of concern that inhabits lobster fishermen today.

And it’s not just the increase in their fuel and bait expenses that worries them. It’s that the difficulties experienced by the crab industry this year could have repercussions on the price that lobster fishermen will receive for their catch, explains Luc LeBlanc, fisheries advisor at the Maritime Fishermen’s Union (UPM). .

“Guys are a little nervous, launches Mr. LeBlanc. Crab processors have been caught buying snow crab at a relatively high price early in the season, and weak demand in US markets has made it difficult for them to sell their product.”

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

In addition, a large part of the processed crab is still stored in freezers. These plants may therefore not have the necessary space to store the lobster they will process, worries Luc LeBlanc.

Challenges for processors

Nathanaël Richard, director of the Maritime Lobster Processors Association (ATHM), confirms that the fears felt by lobster harvesters are not unfounded. Many challenges are expected for lobster processors this year.

About a third of the members of the ATHM also process snow crab.

“Indirectly, the difficulties in crab are undermining both industries. They have major problems moving crab stocks. It is no longer possible for factories to buy and process without being able to sell their products. At some point, it causes a cash flow problem,” says Mr. Richard, adding that not all plants have these challenges.

The problem surrounding storage is also very real, he confirms. Crab is usually sold as it is processed, so the question of storage does not arise. This year, some plants may find it difficult to buy lobster due to a lack of space to store it once processed.

“Since April or May, I have been constantly hearing about storage issues, both locally and in our export markets, such as the United States. This is not a problem that will be resolved anytime soon,” says Nathanael Richard.

Falling demand?

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

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

“This year, we saw a good demand for the frozen product – cooked or raw in the shell – in Europe and Asia, but overall, it’s a small part of our exports, specifies Nathanaël Richard. Unfortunately, when the American market, our dominant market, runs out of steam, it has an impact on everyone.

Faced with this lower demand, which could in all likelihood increase, several processing plants have chosen to temporarily cease their activities between the fishing seasons of zone 23 and zone 25.

“Some factories have no choice but to be cautious because they are facing major challenges,” explains Mr. Richard. If someone isn’t careful in a year like this, it could have serious consequences.”

Despite the slowdown observed since this spring, Luc LeBlanc hopes that fishermen will be able to get out of the game.

“Will this be a disaster? Probably not, but it will depend on the price. In terms of resources, we are hopeful. There are no indicators that suggest she’s unhealthy, but we won’t know for sure until we pull the traps out of the water. It is especially at the level of the markets that we have concerns.

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