Inaction not option for P.E.I. lobster fishermen, meeting hears

Dave Stewart
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Mike McGeoghegan, left, president of the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association, attends a meeting in North Rustico on Tuesday key recommendations contained in reports on the lobster industry. With him are Lee Gallant, centre, association treasurer, and fisherman Jamie Gauthier.

Lobster fishermen along P.E.I.'s North Shore will be voting in the next few weeks on key recommendations facing the industry — including whether it’s in favour of a levy.

That was one of the key recommendations released recently in two reports on the industry, the first by the Maritime Lobster Panel set up by Atlantic premiers and the second by former P.E.I. auditor general Colin Younker.

The options were the main topic of conversation at a meeting Tuesday hosted by the North Shore Fishermen’s Association.

One thing was crystal clear — fishermen, looking for a better price on their lobsters, can’t sit by and wait for things to get better.

“I hear people saying that we’ve got to do something,’’ said Norm Peters, who has been fishing for 50 years and suggested a levy 20 years ago where fishermen would pay one cent for every pound of lobster.

Even Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley, who was at Tuesday’s meeting, didn’t mince words.

“Do you go out fishing next summer and, after a couple of weeks, complain about the price or do you do something about it?’’ MacKinley told the fishermen bluntly.

There are four key recommendations. One is a price-setting that would be voluntary but legislated, develop a market intelligence institute to collect good information, institute a levy to help pay for the first two recommendations, and fourthly it would also pay for generic promotion of Atlantic Canadian lobster.

Richard Gallant, deputy minister of Fisheries, said if Island fishermen pool their funds with those in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, they would collectively have $2 million to pay for generic promotion.

To provide some perspective on marketing costs, a full page lobster advertisement in the Globe and Mail would cost $100,000.

“I think the fishermen are supportive of some of the key recommendations in these reports and we want to promote dialogue because there are some decisions the fishermen are going to have to make in the next few weeks or months if they want to embrace some change in the industry before they go fishing in the spring,’’ Gallant said.

Mike McGeoghegan, president of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association, said he’s never seen such difficult times.

“We had quite a year,’’ said McGeoghegan. “Nothing like I’ve seen in my 35 years in the industry. The whole game has changed. We need a system reset.’’

He pointed out that prices have dropped 25 per cent in the past seven years alone, from $5.50/$6.50 per pound to less than $3. The association has long maintained that a price of at least $4 a pound for canner or smaller lobster and $5 a pound for market size lobster is needed for the industry to survive.

Peters says fishermen realize change is coming.

“I think they know they’re going to have to pay a little bit to get going in this industry. We can’t just sit back,’’ Peters said. “(If we do nothing) I don’t think we’ll end up tied up again but we’ll not be any further ahead. What we’ve got to do is try and get a price, something minimum that we understand and can work with.’’

In the next few weeks, a plebiscite of sorts will take place in LFA24 where fishermen will have three or four question to answer - such as whether fishermen favour paying a penny-per-pound levy or write a one-time cheque for $200 or $300 when they get their tags.

“Let’s build up a fund.’’

Emphasis was also placed at the meeting on working with associations in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick so that the price is the same in all three provinces, preventing processors from searching for cheaper prices in a region that catches 90 per cent of the lobster in Canada.

However, Peters said he’s hearing fishermen in other areas of P.E.I. don’t want to do anything and that remains a concern.

“I’ve always felt that it’s a Canadian resource. We should be paying something into it.’’

Organizations: Maritime Lobster Panel, Globe and Mail

Geographic location: P.E.I. Fishermen, North Shore, Nova Scotia New Brunswick Iceland LFA24 Canada

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Recent comments

    December 17, 2013 - 19:26

    I love getting my summer EI claim going and then driving around in my new truck laughing at my friends that work all year .Then I sell for cash after that until I get my winter EI claim going then I work at construction for cash part of the winter so I can get a good long cuban vacation in just before trap day each spring its a great life you working suckers .

  • Ben Dover
    December 13, 2013 - 00:14

    I find it hard to figure out how a fishermen on the northside that catches 35-45 thousand pounds of lobster can barley get by at 3 dollars a pound. Pretty good income for 2 months. Not counting 30-40 thousand pounds of herring a week at 25 cents a pound. Or the endless tuna charters. Its all a bluff. Keep whining...keep recieving. Dont believe any of it. Thats why most are staying quiet right now. Fishing is huge. But they will take whatever you are willing to hand them over.

  • sickofjr
    December 12, 2013 - 07:59

    After the first week of $ 1.50 LB lobster next spring a licence and gear will be selling for about 30k and then we will all strike until the last second to get EI then we will put our heads down and go fishing just like last spring .

  • sickofjr
    December 12, 2013 - 06:32

    " We can't just sit back " Ha Ha thats funny all fishermen do is sit back and whine while draining the EI system with their summer and winter EI claims . And selling scallops and lobster for TAX FREE cash while on EI. I will be buying lobster for $ 1.00 per lb on the Montaque wharf next spring .

  • fisherman's daughter
    December 11, 2013 - 20:06

    I wonder if the PEI fishermen would ever consider a price stabilization fund plan. It worked for years for hogs, etc. When the price per lb is high, they pay a fee which goes into the fund and when it is low, they get from the fund what they should get to keep afloat, pardon the pun. It could be done on a Tripartite system i.e. federal, provincial governments would enter into agreements with the fishermen. As it is, they are swimming against a tide of greedy processors. Just a suggestion.

  • jrsplace
    December 11, 2013 - 11:00

    Merry Christmas to all lobster fishers . I wish you all a more profitable season next year because the more you make the better our own community here on the Island does . God bless you all on the water where the perils are many and the rewards can be fickle .

  • Mr. Dude
    December 11, 2013 - 10:51

    I agree that last spring the lobstermen were upset and striking, but you haven't heard a word from then since then. If Spring comes next year with more complaints on the same issues that weren't addressed by lobster fishermen, they will only have themselves to blame. And yes, government should help out an industry, but people should be trying to develop they're industry with guidance. Reorganization of the industry sounds like a good idea.

  • Bill
    December 11, 2013 - 09:07

    There seems to be a lot more concern for lobster fishermen than there ever was for oyster fishermen, should the Fisheries Minister not be equally concerned for ALL fisheries? There was no help when the oyster fisheries were and are in decline, but yet you go to all grocery stores and see Korean oysters. I think all concern should be equal.

  • Unbelievable
    December 11, 2013 - 05:26

    A nuclear disaster in Japan, right in their fish food has driving both supply down and demand up. Prices are high. HALF THE PLANETS POPULATION LIES IN THIS BELT! Fish is their primary food other that rice and vegetables not meat yet meat sales have gone through the roof because of the lack of seafood available. GET GOVERNMENT OUT OF FISHING. Hire someone to get you a much better price. Japanese representatives came through PEI 3 years ago and were unsuccessful in even getting a meeting done. Found lots of seafood in Maine though. This government is too slow to react to anything. They need their bosses approval to even have a meeting with the public let alone a foreign businessperson. (Their boss is not an elected official)