NEW GLASGOW – The provincial government is hoping to launch a pilot project this year that could see lobster fishermen paid for the quality of product they are fishing.
Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell said he is aware of ongoing issues in the lobster fishing industry that include low prices for fishermen and rising tensions with the buyers and processors. He believes the best way to improve the industry is to look at quality control.
“Top quality lobsters demand top quality prices,” he said.
Colwell said his department has been speaking with processors and fishermen in an undisclosed area of the province that is considering taking on a quality control program this year.
Currently, he said, all lobster caught are graded by size only and this is the only price differentiation. This means that lobsters of poor quality are given the same price, with the exception of size, as lobsters that may live longer or have better meat.
This, in turn, ends up costing the processors money because if the lobster quality is not good in the entire “mystery crate,” than some of the lobsters could die before they are processed.
He said if they pilot project goes ahead than training, new equipment and marketing for fishermen, processors and buyers will be needed so they can identify and process quality lobster that will get top dollar when it is exported.
The pilot project follows in line with the Maritime Lobster Panel’s recommendations to get rid of “mystery crates” and develop industry-grading standards. The panel said the value of the lobster can be more than just its size. It can be the condition, shell hardness, colour, meat yield and integrity of the fish.
For example, Colwell said, if a lobster with one claw was sold locally, it would fetch the same price in Nova Scotia as a lobster with two claws because Nova Scotians are familiar with the product and know that the amount of claws has no bearing on the taste of the meat.
However, if that same one-clawed lobster was exported to an overseas market, it would not sell because those unfamiliar with the product would consider it to be of poor quality.
He added that word-of-mouth is also a major factor in promoting a product so if a customer gets a sub-par lobster on his first purchase from Nova Scotia, he won’t be so inclined to try the product again.
“You know when you buy something at the store and you take it home and it falls apart on you and you know it was made in another country,” he said. “When someone else goes to buy the same product, you will tell them it is no good because you had it first.”
He said the end result is to get money in the pockets of everyone who had a hand in getting that lobster from the bottom of the ocean to a person’s dinner plate at the best possible price.
“Fortunately landings have been high this season which is a good start and there’s a real future for this industry,” he said. “The processors are geared for this pilot program. We will make the investment and we will see a return on the investment.”
Colwell acknowledged that sudden changes are not going to come as a result of one area taking part in the pilot project, but change needs to start somewhere.
“We are going to work through these tough times and start a trend and get high prices and guarantees,” he said, adding that participation in the pilot program is voluntary, but he hopes once people and areas see the benefits, others will want to join in.
He commended fishermen in the Gulf area for their conservation efforts and said he wouldn’t be surprised if they were interested in taking the next step towards quality control.
“We are dealing with an industry that is fiercely independent and it has made a lot of progress on a lot of things,” he said. “We have to show them that it will work. We will invest in it and do what we have to.”
Colwell said he hopes to firm plans for the pilot project by mid-summer during which time more details will be announced.