Lobster fishermen fighting against climate change

Nova Scotia's multi-million dollar lobster industry is trying to overcome challenges associated with increasing global temperatures.

Marc Surette, of the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association, said while catches in the Maritimes remain high, the quality of the lobster meat has become increasingly inconsistent.

"They were getting lobsters, that their meat yield was going to be a lot lower than what we're used to," he said.

Atlantic lobster thrive in cold water and unusually warm weather can cause the lobster stress after fishermen pull them from the traps.

Some scientific studies have shown that stress on lobsters results in lower quality meat.

A study published in the Journal of Invertebrate Physiology in June investigated the effects of capture processes on Norway lobster quality.

Researchers found that rough handling during capture increased stress on lobster and resulted in lower quality meat.

Keeping the lobster cool, by using ice for instance, resulted in better quality meat.

Surette said, in the past, the industry didn't worry much about the quality of lobster. Now, climate change is forcing fishermen to pay close attention to how they handle their catch.

"Temperatures in December in the 12 to 15 degree range, they've got warm winds out of the south, they've got rain. These are all not typical of a December fishery," he said.

This fall, Surette said many fishermen will be taking courses to learn more about what keeps lobsters in top shape, from trap to table.

"For instance, have ice on board to help keep lobsters cool and moist, to learn to keep them out of the sun and out of the wind and do their best that way," he said.

Over the last four years, the lobster industry has taken a beating from distressed economies in Europe and the United States.

Low prices have been a source of frustration for lobster fishermen over the last four seasons and now climate change is adding pressure to an already stressed industry.

Surette said the industry is also working to create a two price system that rewards fishermen who deliver premium lobsters with a higher price but that depends on finding customers who are willing to pay more for a guarantee of quality.