Over the years, soft-shell lobster, which from a market perspective are considered to be poor quality lobster, have impacted the lobster industry in Nova Scotia. Soft-shelled lobster are not poor quality or unhealthy from a biological perspective, they just have not reached their full maturation, ie: they haven't had time to harden and fill with meat. The soft-shell condition is, however, a market issue as customers prefer the hard-shell lobster full or meat. Therefore, when the soft-shell lobster are harvested, the market for this product is low end and therefore as a result, affects the price fishermen receive for their catch. The practice of harvesting soft-shell lobster has impacted the economic return for processors and fishermen, particularly during the fall of 2003 and again in the fall of 2011. Understanding the biological moult cycle of lobster and collecting data that will assist in better fishing practices being investigated is vital to the sustainability and health of the Southwest Nova Scotia lobster industry and requires continued annual data collection.
Lobster quality is directly related to moult-timing. Changes in temperature, diet, and other ecosystem factors affect moult-timing. Timing of moult is important in its effects on lobster quality because a period of time after moulting is required before lobsters harden and are in top market quality. Lobster fishermen, processors, and scientists have participated in developing a research program designed to understand the relationship between temperature and food sources on lobster quality and the moult cycle.
This collaborative investigation, involving lobster harvesters, buyers, dealers, processors, and scientists, began in 2004 in Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 33 and 34 with at-sea sampling of blood protein, shell-hardness and moult stage during the summer. At-sea sampling continued with pre-season surveys in late October and early November. Shore based sampling is done during the season. In 2008, the program expanded into LFA 35 in the Bay of Fundy, providing a larger scale look at the fishery throughout different regions of Nova Scotia. Additional information and results are available on the website at www.lobstermoult.ca.
Sampling and Results
Bi-weekly at-sea sampling is done from June to November each year in the following locations: Argyle – Jacquards Ridge, Yarmouth – Horseshoe, and Port La Tour. Pre-season sampling is done during late October – early November from additional ports in Sambro, Moose Harbour, Cape Sable and St. Mary’s Bay. Shore based and some at-sea sampling is done during the season. Table 1 summaries the samples completed for 2011. Results are provided annually in a LFA 33/34 Moult and Quality Project Update, which is published in the December issue of the FSRS newsletter and is available on the project website at http://www.lobstermoult.ca/. A copy of the 2011 update is included as Appendix 1. Appendix 2 provides a summary of sampling effort for the various locations over the duration of the project. More than 105,000 lobsters have been sampled in LFA 33/34 since the project began in 2004.