Lobster boats tie up Tuesday as processors seek fish plant workers

Dave Stewart
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The Morning Mist heads out into the gulf in this Guardian file photo.

Covehead fisherman Ray Campbell says putting some Island lobster fishermen on a quota but not others is hurting the industry.

Some Island fishermen tied their boats up on Tuesday when buyers told them there was no market for their catches. Quotas limit the number of lobsters the fisherman is allowed to sell.

The P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association points to chronic labour shortages as the main reason. There simply aren’t enough workers to process the amount of lobster coming in.

“Where it really hurts is where one harbour is on a quota and the harbour next to them isn’t. One buyer puts his fishermen on a quota and the other fellows don’t,’’ Campbell said. “That’s where it affects them — it really affects them.’’

Campbell isn’t on a quota but some fishermen in the eastern part of the province were reportedly put on a 500-pound limit on Saturday and told not to go out Monday or Tuesday.

“The packer I sell to has a certain amount of boats and he’s been set up for 50 years. Some fellows just can’t handle it, plain and simple,’’ Campbell said.

Dennis King of the processors association confirmed there are isolated quotas in the eastern part of the province.

The season started out cold and miserable and the catches reflected that initially. However, the weather has improved over the past week to 10 days and so have the catches.

King says the processing industry could use about 400 workers right now.

“That’s how short we are,’’ King said. “We used to bring in temporary foreign workers as a bit of a Band-Aid solution. That was a bit difficult this year. There were some challenges around that file and we haven’t been able to bring in as many of those as we would like.’’

Plants at one time would simply add an extra shift but King says the workers in the plants now are doing as much as they can.

“The chronic labour shortage has really impacted our industry.’’

The problem isn’t exclusive to P.E.I. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are in the same boat. In Nova Scotia, 1,688 boats have been tied up since Saturday.

“This industry is 100 years old. We should be able to run this thing a whole lot better than we’re doing,’’ Mike McGeoghegan

Pinette fisherman Charlie McGeoghegan, who represents the area as an MLA, says processors have known about the worker shortage for some time.

McGeoghegan believes the processors are mad because lobster fishermen went on strike a year ago over what they say were low prices and are striking back now.

He points out that four years ago the provincial government established a program in which it would buy excess lobsters that buyers couldn’t handle and hold them until processors could take them.

McGeoghegan said out of 25 million pounds caught that year, the province was only able to purchase 35,000 pounds.

“That called their bluff at the time,’’ McGeoghegan said. “How are we supposed to believe them now.’’

It all has Mike McGeoghegan, president of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association, shaking his head in disbelief.

“How can a business that’s been running for 100 years be caught off guard like this?’’ Mike McGeoghegan said, referring to holding capacity and labour shortage issues. “We’re coming up to Father’s Day, one of the biggest holidays in North America.’’

Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley said a job fair of sorts will be held in Souris on Thursday. Due to the construction of the new high school, students will be getting out about 10 days early and the local fish plants would love to hire them.

King said it’s one way they’re trying to address the challenges facing the industry.

“We’re going to try and pick up some of these kids from Souris school. If we can find 50 or 60 or 100 (kids), it’s a great opportunity to make over minimum wage. We’re going to continue to find ways to address this chronic issue which has been dogging this industry for years now.’’

 

dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/DveStewart

Organizations: TC Media

Geographic location: Cape Breton, Gabarus, Nova Scotia

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Recent comments

  • John Lobster
    June 04, 2014 - 12:52

    Oh. There are expenses with running a business?? Who would of thunk? So easy to ruffle the not so wise. At least all the fishermen and women can agree on one thing. They are the hardest working people on the planet, under paid, deserve welfare, ....One post mentioned there were deisel motors in the boats...im shocked, i can only assume now you musy have a fuel bill??? OmG?!? Im sorry. I will start geeling bad this afternoon. Once i get my nails done..

  • Put Islanders To Work , Cut EI
    June 04, 2014 - 08:25

    successful and able to provide for their families. What a crock of Bull S*** that is . With out the taxpayers money - grants - loans & most of all EI for themselves & members of their families , they would have to get a job & live like the rest of us do . Listen to them whining & then still say they are successful business men & women . Give me a break . Unemployment here in PEI is a farce & this proves it . Lot's of job's , Islanders just to lazy to work , rather have no pride & live off handout's . As far as John Lobster goes , so angry and nasty toward lobster fishers. He sees in them what he can never be - successful and able to provide for their families. Since WHEN have they provided without the taxpayers money . It's been a lot of years . As you can tell by the post's he's not alone in being pissed off where his tax dollar is going .

  • Jilliane Runighan
    June 04, 2014 - 08:01

    I dont' usually comment on these stories, because as usual there are so many misinformed comments. I will be the first to admit, that I had no idea what it was like to be a "fishing family" and was outrageously misinformed like yourself John Lobster, and like so, so many others. That is of course, until we became one. Let me tell you firstly that I have a new level of respect for not only my husband, but all fishermen and women. Before you go making assumptions, let me let you in on a little (apparently, secret) because you are missing some facts. You're assuming that the X amount of pounds caught in the 2 month season, is basically profit after a few minor expenses. Well, sorry to burst your little bubble. There are MAJOR payments involved for most. There are wages, boat insurance, insurance on wharf properties, etc, payroll remittances, several liscense fees, bait costs, fuel costs, trap materials, boat repairs, (which can be very costly, trust me), wharf dues, taxes, everyday costs to upkeep the boat, and of course your payment. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. Secondly, I don't know where you got your information that "huge catches are wrapping all the way around to the southside", but really? Can you let me know where exactly?! We have some gear to move apparently......And of course, just so you know, most fishing families I know don't have all the summer toys (whatever that means) and go on vacation. Some do, sure. Maybe they have been at it a while and are finially starting get ahead. Isn't that how life works? You work hard, pay down your bills as you go along, and eventually you can afford some luxuries now and again. Im sure there were lots of others on the beach in Cuba as well, would you say they don't deserve a vacation? I doubt it. Maybe they are young, so what? Maybe that young fisherman works another job. Maybe he can afford it...Maybe it's his wifes job that pays for the vacation..maybe he takes off after fishing and heads west and a weeks vacation in Cuba is how he takes a break....any of those situations are possible. If you know so much, fill everyone in on how to make all this money you're talking about without the expenses...Stop spewing hate when you know nothing. Stop assuming fisherman are living in some sort of paradise when in many cases, it is far from it. It's so sad when as Islanders we go around bashing eachother without proper knowledge of the situation. Go and sit down with a fishing family, especially who is just starting out, and talk to them. Have a coffee and a chat and ask them how things are? You might get a different picture than the one you painted for yourself. Getting the answers is as simple as asking the questions, and you my friend, don't have the answers.

  • Stan Lee
    June 04, 2014 - 07:36

    Here is a wild idea for the Fisherman and hired hands.For the ones that could not fish,why did they not go to the lobster plants that lack employees and offer to get hired .Most fisherman are in by 1000-1200 so they could work in the plants for the afternoon. Can,t wait to hear why they can not do this other than it may effect their EI ??

  • Sadie MacKenzie
    June 04, 2014 - 06:56

    Are the plants taking in lobsters from Maine or is this just talk. And where are all these new markets that was suppose to have been found?

  • Schizo
    June 03, 2014 - 20:46

    Here's an idea. Call the people who work at the fish plants lazy parasites. Force them to move to Alberta and work at McDonald's. Then stand around scratching our heads and wondering why the fish plants can't get enough workers. Yes, the "reform" is working brilliantly.

  • Knows Better
    June 03, 2014 - 20:25

    Until the government gets completely out of the fishing industry, there will always be these problems. The government has ruined farming and tourism already on PEI and are now in the process of ruining the fishing industry. Actually they would have had it ruined already if it had not been for the Feds giving EI to the fisherman to prolong their existence. Government needs to get completely out of these industries and let the marbles fall where they will. Government involvement should consist of no more than policing these industries and until they stop giving loans and grants to all their friends and keeping them in business to compete against the real industry players, it will always remain this way.

    • Let it go
      June 04, 2014 - 09:30

      And yet they all scream for government to get involved (listen to the whining of Colin Lavie) if you don't believe me. No matter what happens in any if these industries- as soon as times get tough they turn to government to fix the problems. It's a catch 22 for Government- dammed if they do- dammed if they don't.

  • walter
    June 03, 2014 - 18:09

    Time to take the wives off the boats and put them in the fish-plants.

  • High -Roller
    June 03, 2014 - 18:09

    John Lobster is right their is a glut of complaining EI fishermen in the market for more handouts and after working only 48 days and selling $90 k of lobster and then looking to the tax payers and the EI fund so they can do drive to tims 3 times a day all year . Give your heads a shake . PS I can name a dozen lobstermen that met up in Cuba a few months ago .

    • High-Roller
      June 03, 2014 - 18:37

      Come on, Joe. At least come up with your own username. Talk about lazy...

  • Indigo
    June 03, 2014 - 18:06

    Close the EI offices and open up the fish plants.

  • Garth Staples
    June 03, 2014 - 17:49

    As usual Minister MacKinley blames the Fed Foreign Works programme for lack of workers. In the next breath he suggests it is a difficult --12 hrs on your feet job-- when asked why Islanders weren't picking up the jobs! I guess he thinks it is OK for Chinese and Filipinos to stand 12 hours on their feet! Liberal hypocrisy at its worst.

    • Observer from the East
      June 04, 2014 - 09:50

      Yes, because only Liberals think this. Not everything has to be twisted into Liberal=bad, Conservative=good.

  • Bob MacIntosh
    June 03, 2014 - 16:54

    John Lobster was just taken downtown and rightly so, but I highly doubt he can hold down a job let alone have a secretary. That is why he is so angry and nasty toward lobster fishers. He sees in them what he can never be - successful and able to provide for their families. The envy is just eating him up.

  • Capt'n badass
    June 03, 2014 - 14:02

    The eastern pei catch is huge for some those guys try to keep silent on the numbers but my friend has had 1200 to 1800 lb days on the ridge for weeks . He already has all pogie claims covered and is very happy .

    • 90279gk
      June 03, 2014 - 20:07

      your buddy is out right lying to you,those numbers ar false

  • observer
    June 03, 2014 - 13:47

    A family member of mine caught 8000 pounds at one of the harbours last week. I would think there is probably an abundance of lobsters at the moment

  • NO ANSWER TO THE CRYING
    June 03, 2014 - 13:34

    I guess nothing is going to stop you lobster people from crying, so far we have heard prices too low, prices too high, not enough lobster, too many lobster, People not buying enough, people buying too much causing the price to change, not enough plant workers to handle the supply, too many workers and people not getting enough hours, GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT and at least cry together.

  • AMAZED
    June 03, 2014 - 13:15

    20,000 lb quota on every boat whether you fish 6 months or 6 weeks . You could then forget about trap limits etc . ,catch your fish and tie up your boat . Prices will increase .

    • Craig
      June 03, 2014 - 18:24

      Although the majority of the fishermen will not agree the only way that I see the lobster fishery making it will be with a quota with a price set before fishing starts! Not sure on the lbs per boat but they have to realize that what they are doing now it not working with the lbs being caught all at the same time! All fishermen need to get together in the Atlantic provinces to make it work! The big question is will they come together or just keep on complaining?

  • John Lobsters dream world
    June 03, 2014 - 12:32

    To John Lobster I would like to know where you are getting your numbers from.I know a lot of fishermen on the southside and they are around 300lbs per day not 1000.If you think it is such a good life go buy one I know where you can get one.P.S I DO NOT FISH.

  • John Lobster
    June 03, 2014 - 11:36

    Glut in market. That is for sure. This while fishery is a propaganda mightmare. They say they need more money to make it worth going out. Yet trips are booked south for the winter and summer toys ordered. Ask most of them, they will they you they are homefree and june is goin to be a bonus. Wrapping all the way atound the southside too, guys are averaging over 1000 lbs a day. The fishing is unreal. Just as unreal as saying they need more money to make a go at it. Thats about the only business strategy they have. Not marketing their own product, lying that they need a bigger price. Some things never change. Im fine with everyone making good money. Just dont ask taxpayers to market your product and pay you welfare all winter. Simple. Man up, teach your kid to be a man. Not one hand in pocket, and other out asking for money.

    • Nicolle Oomen
      June 03, 2014 - 13:05

      First of all, John Lobster, have enough courage to put your real name with your comment instead of hiding behind it. Second, I come from a fishing family where there are no trips booked south, and there are no big summer toys ordered. I would love to know your source that tells you the fisherman are home free and that June is just a bonus. I assume that you have never had to buy a fishing boat, or update the equipment in it to make a living. I also assume that you haven't had to put diesel in a fishing boat, and run it 6 days a week. You have not had to pay a hired man for everyday whether it storms and you can't get out or not. And as far as teaching a kid to be a man, I assume that you sit behind a desk all day with your perfectly manicured hands, and your personal secretary. Try doing the the hard work of a fisherman, and spending your free time preparing for the next day or the next year. You build all the traps, and get all the rope ready. You cement your traps, paint your buoys, and take your gear to the harbour and lift it all by hand with your heart and soul as you prepare for another year of unknown. And let's just hope that your boat doesn't break down, or bait isn't too expensive. You talk about being a man; stop hiding behind a fake name, and man up if you have so much to say.

    • Observer from the East
      June 03, 2014 - 15:00

      John Lobster just got told. Fair play to Nicolle. She's right. Most lobster fishers don't have trips booked south or expensive toys (maybe a few older fishermen with everything paid off - the majority of fisherman with payments to make don't have that luxury). Do fishermen have to change things? Absolutely. Do they deserve EI for most of the year? That's another debate entirely. But city-slickers in front of computers should consider other's situations a little more before casting them all with a such a wrong generalization

    • MAN UP
      June 03, 2014 - 16:13

      Get your arse up off the couch , buy an outfit and live the dream . Idiot ! There are people with no formal education that prospered with the sweat of their brow and perseverance .Something tells me your not going to make it at this or any thing else .You cant run with the big dogs if your still peeing like a puppy.

    • Shayne Clinton
      June 04, 2014 - 16:32

      Your big and brave when you don't have the balls to put your real name down.who do you think pay your welfare but the farmer and fisherman

    • Shayne Clinton
      June 04, 2014 - 16:38

      Your big and brave when you don't have the balls to put your real name down.who do you think pay your welfare but the farmer and fisherman

    • Shayne Clinton
      June 04, 2014 - 16:39

      Your big and brave when you don't have the balls to put your real name down.who do you think pay your welfare but the farmer and fisherman

  • Please explain
    June 03, 2014 - 11:02

    What is going on? CBC this morning was blaming the lack of workers (both temporary foreign workers and local workers) for the inability of processors to deal with the catches. This story seems to suggest it was huge catches from NS that have stogged up the system. I know the two issues can be related, but why are they being explained in such different ways? I think quotas are the way to go. A big glut somewhere causes trouble for everyone. If each boat had a quota, then they could decide how to fish it. Our catches haven't been great, yet we're hammered because of a big catch elsewhere. Some year, maybe we have the big catch. Quotas would bring some sense of order to the current system. Just a thought...