Published on November 07, 2013
P.E.I. Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley goes through a report on the future of the Atlantic lobster industry during a news conference in Amherst, N.S. on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013
TC Media photo by Dave Mathieson
Published on August 12, 2013
Brian Matthews guides a load of lobster pans out of a boat at West Point in this Guardian file photo.
TC Media photo by Eric McCarthy
AMHERST, N.S. – Reducing the number of traps early in the season, taking days off each week and better marketing and quality control are just some of the suggestions a three-person panel is making to ensure the region’s billion-dollar lobster industry has a future.
The findings of the Maritime Lobster Panel were released at a news conference in Amherst, N.S. on Thursday, including 33 recommendations in areas of industry relationships, operations and structure.
The panel, including Gilles Theriault of New Brunswick, John Hanlon of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island’s Lewis Creed, said it heard lots of reasons for the industry’s fragile position.
“We saw a distinct set of messages that came out of the work we did. It portrays an industry that’s struggling instead of co-operating, fishing for quantity instead of value, fighting over pennies and losing dollars and asking others to solve their problems,” Hanlon said. “We were told that a significant loss was occurring as a result of the way this industry inter-relates across sectors and with governments, the way the fishery is being operated and the way it is structured. What we see is little change happening”
Since beginning its work in July, the panel met with about 100 organizations representing fishermen, buyers, shippers, processors, brokers and First Nations people throughout the Maritimes and as far away as Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and Maine.
The panel also received 30 written submissions.
The report addresses five key areas, including why the price dropped suddenly in the spring, and examines the various cost and revenue components of harvesters, buyers and processors in the Maritimes. It also provides strategic advice on marketing initiatives and on a course of action to stabilize and then increase prices paid to harvesters.
If accepted by the industry, the recommendations could be implanted for the 2015 season.
Hanlon said the panel is suggesting a greater emphasis on quality with a temporary trap reductions as season begin, having weekly no fishing days to allow for lobster to be cleared from landing areas and to develop and implement grading standards for lobsters.
“The need to improve the quality of lobster entering the marketplace is essential,” Hanlon said. “Although quality improvements are being seen and much work is being done, there is still a need to stress this area.”
Finally, it identifies options for a formal system where the industry would know the price that will be paid to fishermen prior in advance of landings.
Under relationships, the panel’s recommendations are presented in an attempt to shift from the lack of co-operation across sectors and governments to a new reality, while under operations it wants to replace the current practice of high volume fishing over short periods one where the pace of harvesting is matched with the onshore capacity to deal with that harvest “in a manner that provides the best chance for each lobster to achieve its fullest value potential.”
Essential to that, the panel said, is improving the quality of lobster that’s entering the marketplace. The panel is recommending the establishment of an independent Maritime lobster market intelligence institute and is suggesting that industry and governments come together to develop and implement a comprehensive generic marketing and promotion campaign for Canadian lobster.
Creed said the panel wants to see the development and implementation of a “price-setting mechanism for determining the price before the season starts.”
To finance these initiatives, the panel suggests implementing an industry levy with one cent paid by the fishermen for each pound landed and another cent per pound paid by onshore sectors.
“We believe this strategy is the key to achieving the final objective presented to the panel, which was to provide advice to stabilize and then increase the price paid to fishermen while taking into consideration other industry players,” Creed said.
The levy, which would not increase for five years, would include an evaluation either late in the fourth year or early in the fifth to determine its future.
He said the panel sees no reason why the shore price for canner and market lobsters cannot be at least $4 and $5 per pound respectively with relative corresponding returns to other onshore sectors.
In closing, the panel called on leadership from politicians, government agencies and from the various industry sectors that spoke passionately through the process.
The panel was appointed by the three Maritime Fisheries ministers in May after a downturn in lobster prices led fishermen to stop fishing in protest.