Help for lobster fishermen must be led by industry: MacKinley

Teresa Wright
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Carl Gallant of North Rustico on the wharf getting ready for the 2014 season. FILE PHOTO. 

Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley believes higher lobster prices and a marketing levy would help P.E.I.’s struggling lobster industry – but these measures are controlled by industry, not government.

In an interview with The Guardian Wednesday, MacKinley said he understands that fishermen are upset with the low prices they are being paid for their catches, but many of the measures that must be taken to help the industry must be led by fishermen, processors and buyers.

“We don’t buy lobsters, we don’t sell lobsters. We can’t tell processors what they have to pay for lobsters,” MacKinley said.

“It’s supply and demand.”

The P.E.I. government has spent the last year studying and debating the issue of lobster prices. Two consultants reports were commissioned – one in P.E.I. and one for the Maritimes – both of which recommended a one-cent per pound levy for marketing, but suggested it should be a Maritime-wide initiative led by the Lobster Council of Canada.

MacKinley says fishermen in all three provinces have to vote in favour of this before it can go ahead.

As for legislating a shore price, that simply can’t be done, MacKinley said.

“I can’t dictate to processors, ‘You’ve got to pay this or that.’ That’s what you call running the business, and fishing is a business.”

He continues to point to the Natural Products Marketing Act which could allow fishers to adopt their own levy and give them greater control over marketing and distribution of their catches.

Nonetheless some fishermen on the wharves have been highly critical of MacKinley’s leadership on this file, suggesting he is not doing enough.

NDP Leader Mike Redmond questioned the need for a minister of fisheries if he seemingly cannot do anything to help the industry.

MacKinley defended his record, pointing to countless meetings he has attended with his counterparts in the Maritimes, Ottawa and Maine. He also listed initiatives such as the low-interest loan program for fishers and his constant search for new markets and customers, especially at trade shows.

He also pointed to the facilitator he hired to get fishermen and processors to try to come to an agreement on a shore price well before the season began.

But those meetings ended with both sides leaving the table, agreeing to disagree.

MacKinley still views them as a success.

“They came a long ways in building trust. Before, you couldn’t even get them sitting at a table (together).”

He said fishers in Nova Scotia are getting a higher price than P.E.I. fishermen this year because they sell mainly to the live market, not to processors as a majority of Island fishermen do.

And again, that’s a decision of the fishermen – not government, MacKinley said.

“There’s nothing stopping those fishermen if they want to get to live market… you’ll have to talk to processors why they’re not getting more money.”

TWright@TheGuardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

Organizations: Lobster Council of Canada, Natural Products

Geographic location: P.E.I., Maritime, Ottawa Maine Nova Scotia Iceland

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  • Piper Paid
    May 15, 2014 - 12:02

    McKinley is half right but he is holding back on the other half very purposely. Yes fishermen have to organize, cooperate and commit to a form of collective bargaining to get a livable income, shore price what have you. The other side of this is what McKinley is not saying. Shore price discussions or not he still has the ministerial powers to collect information from buyers and determine how reasonable offered prices actually are at this time. His reasoning fits with the overall ethos of the Ghiz government over the last seven years. Potential donors get what they want and do not get disturbed in any way. This was done with PNP, Plan B, cosmetic pesticides and many many other decisions. People with the capacity to donate are treated very well. The rest of pay the HST and shut up. We do not know what a fair price for lobster would be today because Ronnie is doing what every Ghiz minister does, giving the already powerful as easy a ride as possible. And running away from accountability to the rest of us. There are no exceptions to this pattern. Why the PCs will not be so bold makes sense. They have been so inclined and would be again if they got power. Only the NDP asks the tough questions. Well done Mike Redmond.

  • itolduso
    May 15, 2014 - 11:25

    There are just too many lobster fishermen/ladies out there. If you can't make a go of it then look for another way to make a living. The bank is closed boys. The economy is only now slowely turning around but it will be a few yrs yet before we get anywhere close to where we were before the crash. I know I have stopped buying lobster because it is nothing but a treat and right now I have better things to spend my money on.

  • Bob
    May 15, 2014 - 10:55

    Why is he the minister of fisheries all he knows about is farming and B.S.

  • You go girl!
    May 15, 2014 - 10:10

    This dying industry is already getting too much government attention and tax payer's money. If government has to support any industry, it should be something that has future and not this leftover from the past. I can understand supporting two of three fisherman so that tourists can take pictures but anything more than that makes no sense.

  • Lester
    May 15, 2014 - 10:04

    I agree with right on. What more can gov't do! The gov't CANNOT legislate a price. And also the issue of fishers being allowed to draw EI, and sit at the coffee shops and bars for 10 mos while farmers have to work year round!!!! A sore one for me. @ one time there use to be more fisherman's co-op's on this fair Isle; then like my father said..."the younger generation got bit by the greed bug" In many ways this IS the fisherman's fault, prices not cold water, and no way should we tax payers have to fork over any more $. Let them haul in their horns and work together for a change.

  • Right On
    May 15, 2014 - 08:01

    Right on Ron , you are doing all you can & should be doing . The low-interest loan program for fishers and constant search for new markets and customers, especially at trade shows is more than any other industry get's . I don't think you can ever satisfy these fishers unless you just pay them a large salary from the taxpayers purse to stay home for the full 12 months . The ten months they get paid from the fed's now isn't cutting down the whining any .

  • By that logic
    May 15, 2014 - 06:43

    Time to go then for the disgusting mckinley. He readily admits he is of no help to the fishermen so he should finally do something honorable and resign.