Shea says federal fisheries, oceans won’t solve recurring price problems
Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea told the lobster industry this week it has to provide answers to the recurring problems revolving around prices and supply. It was a blunt message many fishermen didn’t want to hear, but it could be the push needed for the industry to stop complaining and start making some tough decisions on its own.
There is a long history of fishermen gearing up each spring or fall and setting sail with high hopes for good landings and strong prices. Marketing and pricing elements were left to buyers, processors and distributers while fishermen would wait for their first statement to arrive for an indication on prices. Recent problems with low prices have been well documented.
Shea told fishers the solutions must come from the industry and not from her department. Federal conservation measures, largely embraced by fishermen, have worked; so well in fact that strong landing are the norm. The marketplace hasn’t been able to handle the glut and has been unable to find sufficient new markets or new product lines that consumers will buy.
Shea is staying on the sidelines of this thorny issue, stating she will not advocate for any particular measure. Some might argue she is shirking her duty as minister and as MP for Egmont, a riding with a large fishing presence.
But government cannot regulate lobster prices or decide where fishermen sell their catch.
Those are issues for the marketplace. If P.E.I. potato growers plant more acres than the market can handle, and the price falls, there will be less acres planted the next season to allow the market to adjust.
The minister urged all parties to work together and look at all options, but it’s obvious there are no easy solutions to reaching a fair price or developing a strong market.
Shea notes the race to the fishing grounds each spring and fall, to catch as many fish as quickly as possible, is proving to be folly. Instead of a two month season, she in hinting the season could be extended as long as four months. But what the minister didn’t spell out is that fishermen might be allowed a longer season but there would have to be quotas set for that to work.
Each licence would have a quota set for total catch, with restrictions on landings per day. It wouldn't make sense for fishermen to land their quotas in four weeks and glut the market, because plants or buyers couldn’t handle them. It makes sense to regulate landings over additional weeks and months to provide a steady supply and keep demand on an even keel.
For such a plan to work, fishermen, processors and marketers would all have to work together and set up the mechanism. A minimum price should be set under such a system with upward adjustments to reward fishermen who land catches on time and in good condition.
Once the industry agrees to such a system, then it would be up to the minister to enact regulations to embrace those recommendations. Region-wide planning is needed and Shea is willing to listen and help. A special lobster panel appointed this spring could very well recommend such a proposal. The panel will face the challenge of suggesting some radical options such as season changes and boat quotas. A lobster marketing board could be suggested.
Shea’s challenge will be to display the political will to enact those changes, even though some measures will be unpopular in her own riding.