Levy vote proceeding too slowly

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While P.E.I. minister muses about some action N.S.’s Keith Colwell makes key announcement

Ian MacPherson, left, executive director of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association, says a board meeting will be held in the next two weeks to decide how to proceed with a vote on a lobster marketing levy for P.E.I. Also pictured is Craig Avery, a member of the association’s board of directors.

While P.E.I. fishermen dawdle, Nova Scotia is boiling the lobster pot. At least, that’s the impression many Islanders are getting at the snail-like pace towards approval of a lobster-marketing levy here. The levy was a key recommendation contained in several regional reports last year. While fishermen considered the levy, the spring season has come and gone with dismal prices. Now the fall season starts today in western P.E.I. and it will likely be long over before final voting takes place.

If all three areas on P.E.I. support the plan, it means there will be another delay while plans for a lobster marketing board are drawn up, which will require an Island-wide vote. Fishermen want transparency and advance details on how their money is going to be spent, a full business plan and who is going to administer it. At this rate, most current fishermen could be retired before anything is in place.

Last week, P.E.I. Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley was wondering aloud when the lobster levy vote would be held. He bemoaned the fact things were taking so long, expecting such a vote would have been over long before now.

Perhaps if the minister took a greater interest in the lobster fishery, and prodded the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association along, the vote would have taken place long before now. After the tabling of several reports last fall, Mr. MacKinley seemed content to sit back and let the industry dictate the next moves. That was a mistake. And now here we are, almost no further ahead with a levy than a year ago.

One surmises that the PEIFA was responding to the minister’s public musings when it appeared Wednesday before the Standing Committee on Fisheries to announce it was proceeding with a levy vote. It was baffling to hear that the PEIFA is still wrestling over the question to ask on a ballot, even though one LFA has already voted 75 per cent in favour.

Remember, this is about a one-cent-per-pound levy. It shouldn’t be that big of a deal.

While Mr. MacKinley opines about levies, and P.E.I. fishermen wrestle over phrasing and dates, N.S. Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell acted last week when he announced a surprising five-cent-per-pound levy on lobster. The plan is to levy two cents for marketing efforts and three cents for a pilot project on quality control, divided up among fishermen, buyers and processors.

Mr. Colwell held meetings with various groups earlier this year but dropped the bombshell himself, thinking the time for talk is over and the time for action is now. He did some backtracking this week, saying that the actual legislation would be general, pending consultations, but the two cents seems firm.

A former N.S. fisheries minister was critical because the government had not received a mandate from fishers and buyers to impose this levy, which “is placing the independence of the lobster fishery at risk.”

Perhaps Mr. Colwell is acting before it’s too late and there is nothing left to save?

Why didn’t the three Maritime provinces act in unison on a joint levy? You can be sure that petty jealousies will arise over the two to five cents in N.S. and a lower assessment on P.E.I. Now, N.S. fishermen will wonder why they are spending money to benefit their P.E.I. counterparts.

Grassroots democracy is a great thing but it can be agonizingly slow.

Organizations: Standing Committee on Fisheries

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

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