Fishermen deserve praise for levy initiative

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Not only do fishermen need to haul in the catch, they also need to help improve industry

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.

Prince Edward Island fishermen in Lobster Fishing Area 24 deserve credit for trying to kick-start the establishment of a fund to help market their product. In a recent test vote, they overwhelmingly said they would agree to a levy of a penny a pound to help with marketing. It shows both initiative and the kind of creative thinking the industry so desperately needs.

In recent years, fishermen have gained a reputation for being all talk and finger-pointing and not much action. It’s not fair to say they haven’t done anything. After all, they have reduced the number of traps they fish to help decrease landings and increased the carapace size. They also staged a protest and stopped fishing for a few days last spring.

But in terms of the big picture, not much has changed in the lobster industry for a long time. The status quo has not been kind to the industry that suffers from a double whammy of fishermen getting paid too little for lobsters and processors dealing with too large inventories, which keeps prices down.

All parties in the industry now believe it is time to get serious about things like marketing. Towards that end, the LFA 24 fishermen, which runs from Tignish to North Lake, recently held the test vote.

Based on last year’s Prince Edward Island landings, a penny a pound could add up to a slush fund of $250,000. Throw in the possibility of P.E.I. processors also throwing in a penny a pound and all of a sudden there’s a half-million dollars for marketing. And there is yet a third multiplier effect; if all the East Coast lobster region did the same, all of a sudden the total jumps to a whopping $3 million.

With the LFA 24 test vote behind them, P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association president Mike McGeoghegan says they now plan to hold an Islandwide vote on the penny a pound levy idea. Hopefully similar votes will take place in other provinces.

However, before any money is collected or spent, levy agreements would need to be in place, and that won’t be a simple task. First, the fishermen would have to agree, then Maritime governments would need to turn the wish for a levy into legislation to ensure it becomes reality.

Although marketing seems like an obvious choice for the slush fund, it is possible the money could be used for other purposes. But right now how it is spent is hypothetical. Perhaps more important is the fact fishermen are getting serious about being involved in helping build a more prosperous and stable industry.

P.E.I. Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley says fishermen and processors must put aside their differences and work together if any progress is to be made. He’s supportive of a levy. He also wants to see a price-setting mechanism for lobster shore prices, but that will be a tough thing to implement.

If fishermen are looking for success stories they need look no further than their brothers and sisters working in P.E.I.’s potato industry. That industry invests heavily in marketing, and it has been a worthwhile investment. In fact, P.E.I.’s golden girl, Heather Moyse, is one of the centrepieces of their promotion. Perhaps the lobster industry needs to get Miss Moyse sitting down to a lobster feed with a bib protecting her Olympic medal.

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, P.E.I. Fishermen, Lobster Fishing Area Tignish North Lake

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  • don
    February 26, 2014 - 23:19

    who will have control over this money?