Fish plant optimistic for 2021 lobster season

·4 min read

TANGIER – Even though they are entering a second lobster season during a global pandemic, the owners of Abriel Fisheries in Tangier are looking forward to a successful season.

John and Janet Abriel own and operate the year-round business and, after having lived through the ever-changing protocols of 2020, they feel equipped to face what may lay ahead over the next two months.

Janet, plant administrator, spoke with The Journal by phone.

“Already this feels like a more normal season, compared to 2020, because we’ve had COVID-19 under our belt. We had to adapt and change and we open with safety protocols in place,” she said.

The Abriels started preparing for the 2021 season in February, when they secured their bait supply for fishers who purchase from them. Each season Abriel connects with the lobster fishers in their area – LFA 32 from Eastern Passage to Ecum Secum – to discuss their needs, requirements or concerns.

“One word that best defines the 2020 season was ‘uncertainty,’” Abriel said. “The biggest challenge we all faced last year – really throughout the world – was looking to each other to get answers about how we could maneuver the pandemic to do business and move live lobsters. No one was confident how we would manage it with the world pretty much shut down.”

John said the pandemic forced changes, but people still need to eat. Lobster is a commodity and still moved through the marketplace. Fishers fished, buyers bought and consumers ate.

This year is proving to be a more traditional season, when it comes to preparation for the fish plant, which John’s father, Gordon, established in 1947. The plant employs a full-time, year-round staff of up to 12 – plus fishers and their crews seasonally.

Abriel Fisheries sells live lobster during the spring season and during the rest of the year they sell heavily salted cod fish and pollock – sourced from Nova Scotia, Iceland and Newfoundland – to the Caribbean Islands, the U.S. and Canada.

He described the domino effect “from sea to sales,” with high volume purchasing of bait and selling to fishers. Fishers bring in their catch and sell to the plant, which moves live lobster into the world market. If there is a break in any of those links, it jeopardizes the productivity.

“Last year there was limited air freight anywhere,” Abriel recalled, “so we had to know how the product was to be moved. It was very stressful for us to buy and to get it through the market place.”

Abriel explained there was no secure way to buy, hold or ship live lobsters, but they took it in stride and took each day and the changes they brought.

Even with the challenges brought on by the pandemic, Abriel Fisheries was able to have a complete lobster season last year. It proved to not be a normal year for pricing per pound, as Mother Nature stepped in and inclement weather became a factor in catches, but they completed the season.

Confident is the word Abriel uses to describe looking forward to the upcoming season, which will run from April 20 to June 20. Lobster is the main export out of the province of Nova Scotia and that includes transportation, infrastructure and consumers, she noted. Abriel expects volume and price to be more reflective of pre-COVID 2020.

“Abriel Fisheries buys live and sells live and our main customers are from the Asian Rim, U.S., EU and Canada. There is a global market for this product – for example the cruise industry are huge consumers of lobsters.”

The biggest change for the company for 2021 is they now have a roof over their heads – literally. On Dec. 18, 2019, the plant – including the office – was obliterated in a fire.

“There was never even any doubt that we were not going to build the business back,” Abriel said. “This was, you know, before the pandemic even happened. But, by the end of December, I had called every fisher we worked with and told them we’d be up and running for the 2020 season – and we were.”

By April of that year, they had a make shift office and wall structures for the plant were up.

“There was no roof – the workers wore oil gear and sunscreen lotion – but it was business as usual,” Abriel said. “So, I guess you can say we can adapt to changes.”

Janice Christie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal