Lobstermen concerned as prices fall more than $1

Posted March 29, 2009, at 7:15 p.m.

SAINT JOHN, New Brunswick — Despite the talk about making sure the lobster fishery is sustainable and catch traceable, one dramatic development in the industry’s market economics was the center of discussion at this week’s cross-border lobster conference.

According to some people at the meeting, the price lobstermen get for their catch in New England and Atlantic Canada fell by more than a dollar on Thursday. They woke up that morning with the price above $7 per pound, but by the time they went to bed that night it was below $6.

“The price dropped a dollar and a quarter yesterday,” Bar Harbor fisherman Jon Carter said Friday to about 50 people at the meeting, which is organized each year by the University of Maine Lobster Institute.

Carter said that in the decades that he has been fishing, he’s grown accustomed to price changes of 10 cents or even 50 cents in a 24-hour period. Abrupt price changes of more than a dollar are something he is not used to.

Laurence Cook, a fisherman from Grand Manan, said the Canadian price went from $8.50 to $7.25 on the same day.

Peter McAleney of New Meadows Lobster said the boat price in Portland on Thursday was $6.50 per pound, but then dropped $1.50 before the day was over.

“To be honest with you, I can’t figure out why because I have nobody fishing,” he said. “The market is soft. We’re not moving anything right now, but that’s because it’s March. It’s always like this.”

Bill Adler, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, said that such price drops can affect fishermen in ways other than just reduced income. Sometimes they have a hard time selling their catch at all, he said, because dealers want to wait to see how far down it might go.

“When prices start to fall, everyone stops buying,” Adler said.

Pete Daley of Garbo Lobster Inc. in Groton, Conn., told the group he knew why the boat price fell so sharply on Thursday. Fishermen in southwest Nova Scotia “caught a lot of lobster last week,” flooding the supply relative to the demand.

Lobstermen in Canada fish mostly in the winter months, while their counterparts in the U.S. fish mostly in the summer, when lobsters migrate closer to shore and consumer demand is higher. The boat price, or what lobstermen get for their catch, tends to be higher in the winter when the volume of lobsters being landed is considerably lower than it is during the summer and fall.

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