The grand kick-off of Canada’s 2018-2019 lobster harvesting season is now set for a full go on Saturday morning -- Dec. 1 -- rather than a staggered start.
A group of Canadian government officials and lobster industry representatives agreed early Thursday morning that the weather off the southwestern shore of Nova Scotia, known as lobster fishing area (LFA) 34, would be safe enough on Saturday at 6 a.m. for the area's more than 900 harvesters to begin putting out their traps, a spokesperson with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has informed Undercurrent News.
Officials had already decided Wednesday morning that LFA 33, the fishing zone on the southern coast of the province, stretching from Shelburne to Halifax counties, was safe enough for its more than 500 harvesters to begin on Saturday at 7 a.m. They had kept open the possibility, should they see better weather forecast models, to allow harvesters in LFA 34 to begin sooner, on Friday afternoon.
“Some of the models are all over the place,” Bernie Berry, with the Coldwater Lobster Association, reportedly told the Cape Breton Post on Wednesday.
Environment and Climate Change (ECC) Canada's latest forecast for the southwestern shore, as posted on its website Thursday morning, warns of “gale force winds of 34 to 47 knots” that day, but predicts the winds will calm by Friday afternoon.
“Wind northwest 25 to 30 knots increasing to northwest 40 early this morning then diminishing to southwest 30 near midnight,” the website reads. “Wind veering to northwest 20 to 25 Friday morning then diminishing to northwest 15 Friday afternoon. Wind diminishing to light Friday evening.”
For Saturday, the forecast reads simply: “Wind light.”
For Sunday: "Wind light increasing to southeast 30 knots."
Winds of 25 knots or greater are considered too dangerous for lobster boats. There’s also the sea state to worry about, as the Bay of Fundy produces some of the world’s most dangerous waves. Waves of 2-3 meters (6-10 feet) are commonplace.
The DFO spokesperson said new variation orders, resetting the scheduled start of the lobster season, would likely be issued later on Thursday, as the agency's offices were without power due to a snowstorm.
The biggest lobster landing day of the year
LFA 34 is the most productive of the more than 20 lobster fishing zones in Canada’s Atlantic Maritimes. In 2017 it was projected to account for 22,679 metric tons, nearly a quarter of the total 92,684t projected for the country that year. But LFA 33 was projected to be the second most productive that year, accounting for 8,017t.
The opening day for the two LFAs, which is always scheduled for the last Monday of November, largely kicks off the lobster season for Canada and is known as “Dumping Day”, as it is the single most productive landing day of the year for the industry.
It’s also the most risky, as so many harvesters are racing to get out on the water with their traps and the weather is seldom agreeable given the time of the year.
Dumping Day was postponed this week due to the wind and waves. That’s a common happening, Jean-Marc Couturier, a meteorologist with ECC Canada, told Undercurrent earlier this week. In fact, there’s only been one occasion in the last five years when Dumping Day wasn’t delayed, he said.
However, it’s much less common for LFAs 33 and 34 to open on different days, Berry reportedly told the Cape Breton newspaper.
“It's happened maybe two or three times in the past 30 years,” he said.
But safety is a priority, lobster industry officials stressed to Undercurrent.
Canada’s four Atlantic maritime provinces have lost 17 fishermen to drownings in 2018, the most since 2004 when the same number was lost. By contrast, three fishermen were lost to drownings in Canada in all of 2017 and eight were lost in 2016.