The increasing value of Canada’s currency is good news for some in the neighboring North, but it’s just another headache facing Maritime lobster harvesters this season.

The loonie (so named for the loon illustration on the one-dollar coin) is on a par with the U.S. dollar these days. Maritime lobstermen sell roughly 70 percent of their catch to the U.S., and the former high exchange rate used to benefit harvesters. Now Nova Scotia and New Brunswick fishermen say they are facing weak markets, high operating costs — especially for diesel fuel — and lobster prices that threaten to take a nose dive.

“The value of the loonie has a direct impact on the price of our lobster,” Melanie Sonnenberg, spokesperson for the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association told reporters. “People are concerned about what this season could bring.”

Eastern Canadian prices for lobster had not been determined by mid-November, but harvesters said rumors indicated prices would, at best, remain the same.

“We know we got $4.50 a pound last year on opening day,” said a Nova Scotia captain. “But the buyers are now telling us we are going to be very, very lucky if we get $4.50 again this year.” The fall season in the Bay of Fundy opened in mid-November with the southwestern Nova Scotia season slated to open later in the month.

Consumers may benefit from the lower prices to the boat, although there’s no guarantee brokers will pass the savings along. Consumer prices vary at different time of year, and where they’re sold. In spring and summer last year cooked lobster reportedly sold in Fredericton, New Brunswick, for $11 to $12 per pound.

Old-timers say harvesters’ incomes have dropped drastically in recent years and young fishermen, facing an uncertain paycheck, are leaving the Maritimes for work in places such as the western oil fields.

The lobster industry’s woes recently prompted the CEO of Clearwater Fine Foods of Halifax, Nova Scotia, a purchaser of millions of pounds of lobster annually in Atlantic Canada, to call for changes in the industry.

“Four or five years ago, when you sold a lobster to the States for $5 a pound, you were getting $8 [Canadian],” said Colin MacDonald, with the exchange rate keeping Canadian lobster prices artificially high. “Today…you’re getting $4.50.” He said Canada has failed to let the lobster industry organize in a rational fashion that allows investment and “branding” to guarantee a return on investment.

MacDonald said another problem is unbridled competition in the form of truckers with no overhead who offer harvesters a few cents more per pound at the docks than companies like Clearwater, then drive the lobsters to Boston to resell them at the highest prices — perhaps as much as 50 cents a pound more than they paid (WWF Sept. 2007). “The industry should be rationalized,” MacDonald said. q