Another year of record lobster hauls has the industry struggling to find a market for the once precious seafood.

“It’s pretty clear that (catches are) up overall, said Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada. “We’re quite convinced that we’re going to have more than last year.

The lobster population has boomed in recent years and, with it, the catches landed. The glut has pushed wholesale prices down to a paltry $3 a pound, compared to $4.50 or more in 2009.

It’s a Catch-22, with fishermen trying to compensate for low prices by catching more lobster, which in turn feeds the glut and pushes prices down even further.

Marc Surette, executive director of the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association, estimated this year’s lobster haul, a few weeks into the season, is up 25 to 30 per cent from last year.

In early December, some buyers asked the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to close the season for a few days to stem seafood flooding the market. The request was denied.

“There’s always a glut at the start of the season, said Surette, adding the worst is over now. “It’s not like there’s a great demand but everything seems to be moving well.

But prices are between $0.25 and $0.50 per pound lower this year over last, he said.

The Lobster Council of Canada has been promoting lobster to chefs, culinary schools, trade shows and overseas buyers, trying to expand the market. Earlier this month, it ran full-page ads in newspapers in Atlantic Canada encouraging people to eat lobster for Christmas.

Maria Recchia, executive director of the Fundy North Fishermen’s Association, said fishermen are paying more for fuel and operating costs and earning less than they did years ago. Some are cutting back the number of days they go out on the water.

“They’re making up for it in volume and they’re able to do that because the lobster stock is so incredibly strong, said Recchia. “But that’s not sustainable, they’re not going to be able to do that forever.

The collapse of cod stocks and other bottom feeders that preyed on young crustaceans is one reason behind the explosion in the lobster population, along with the warming climate pushing more lobsters north to colder waters. Maine, just south of the New Brunswick border, is seeing a similar glut.

Long-time New Brunswick fisherman Bradley Small said he used to catch a few cod a day in his lobster traps. This autumn he didn’t see one.

“There’s way less predators, said Small. The collapse of those fisheries make lobster all the more important as the last big money maker for Maritime fisheries.

“We’ve got to find the magic market, said Small. “We’ve got a (population) that’s booming. We gotta figure out how to sell them.

Lobster is Canada’s most valuable seafood export. More than $805 million was exported in 2009 to 60 different countries.

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