THIS FISH

QUESTION AND ANSWER

question

Why do you fish lobsters when the claws and arms are almost empty? Taking the fish when the only meat is in the tail is an awful waste. I think the dates of season should reflect the condition of the fish.

-Bernie

answer

The question sent by Bernie is a good one, but complicated to say the least. There are 40 different lobster fishing areas in Atlantic Canada and each has its own seasonal opening and closing. The fishing seasons were set over half a century ago so that fishermen weren't all landing lobsters and flooding the market at the same time, which would lower our prices.

It is well known that meat content should be at its best during cold-water seasons between fall and spring. But that isn't always the case nowadays. There are some fishing areas that are open in the summer months and that also catch a very good quality lobster.  In other areas, that’s not the case.

If we do adjust the seasons in a particular area then the adjacent area would have to change their dates as well. Unfortunately, it is very hard to convince one group of fishermen to change so that others will benefit.

But even in areas where we do fish in cold-water months one can occasionally witness bad quality meat content; so changing the seasons could see improved quality one year, but worse quality the next. We don't know for sure why quality changes from year to year, despite fishing at the same time and in the same place. It could have something to do with feed or the lobsters shedding their shells at different times.

In my lobster fishing area in Southwest Nova Scotia, we have 986 licensed fishermen. When we first set our traps, about a quarter of us will catch poor quality lobsters. One year I may be unlucky and catch mostly poor quality lobsters in my favourite fishing area, but next year my spot could be top quality. Fishermen can move their traps to another area (if there is room), but sometimes if you stay in your area the quality can improve within days.

Lobsters move and we can't constantly open and close a fishing area because of quality. What we try to do is grade the lobsters, shipping the good quality to the live market and sending the poorer quality to the cannery. Still, it is sometimes difficult to guess quality from outside appearance. Like a large firm potato, a lobster can look great but be hollow inside. There’s guesswork involved and so the odd lobster will slip through to the wrong market.

With traceability, I’m hoping that buyers and consumers will reward fishermen who do a better job at consistently catching quality lobsters. Those fishermen who fish smarter or work harder to catch meaty lobsters will be rewarded with better prices and more loyal buyers and consumers. Over time, these incentives should improve quality.

At the same time, when we set our traps, we are just hopeful and we do get surprises. That’s part of the excitement of being a fisherman.

Capt. Hubert E. Saulnier
Saulnierville, Nova Scotia

QUESTION OF THE WEEK:

question

I just ate the lobster you caught; it was wonderful. I was wondering if my lobster was caught June 11th of this year why did I just purchase the lobster in September? Thanks!

-Lana from Ottawa, Ontario

answer

Hi Lana,

First let me apologize for this late reply to your question – but the reason for taking so long is part of the answer. You see, our lobster season in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, lasts from May 15 to July 15, and traditionally, when its over, we don’t think a lot about where our lobsters end up.  Before Thisfish, I had no way of knowing where and when my catch was being sold: so thanks for helping me find that out, and for reminding me to pay more attention.

As I mentioned, our fishery is a spring season that lasts only two months, but we all hope that people like our lobsters well enough to eat them throughout the year. To supply that year-round market, lobster buyers and wholesalers have developed ways to hold live lobsters. These facilities have varied over the years, beginning with tidal pools, where lobsters were held in wooden crates inside wood-lined “ponds” adjacent to the ocean, that relied on tidal flow to provide clean water, oxygen and food to the animals contained within. 

These days, lobsters are kept in “tank houses” where large tanks hold lobsters in dark, cool conditions with water from the ocean circulated to keep them in good shape. I’m not sure how long lobsters are held in this way, but the large investment involved means that the operators keep a close eye on both holding conditions and lobster quality. 

Finally, for long-term storage, some fish companies have developed an approach where lobsters are placed in individual compartments, at temperatures cool enough to mimic winter ocean conditions. This has proven out very well, and I believe work is underway to perfect the same technology in shipping containers, meaning healthy, high quality lobsters can be efficiently marketed around the world.

The last thing I should add – and perhaps you already know – is that other lobster seasons are open around Atlantic Canada throughout most of the year, so it is technically possible to get fresh-caught lobsters almost anytime. The reason why your store chose to carry lobsters from our area might relate to the taste, or the size range available, or perhaps because he had found a dependable supplier of quality seafood, and trusted that lobsters from that supplier would be equally good. It sounds like they were, and I’d like to say thanks for supporting us, and for asking about where your supper came from. 

Capt. Kevin Squires
Big Bras d'Or, Nova Scotia