© Guardian file photo
The P.E.I. Department of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Rural Development and the Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association have launched a joint campaign to promote lobster at the Charlottetown Airport. In this June 2013 file shot are association president Mike McGeoghegan, left, with Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley.
By Paul Gallant (guest opinion)
CBC journalist John Jeffery interviewed Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley Tuesday, May 13 on Compass regards the frustration fishermen are feeling about the price of lobster. The minister made some comments which suggests he’s confused between marketing and promotion because every time he comments about lobster he uses the word marketing.
His parting comment was the real kicker. He suggested that fishermen could set the price through the Natural Products Marketing Act. Doing something like that would be the death knell of the processing sector. Processors have tremendous overhead and operating costs with narrow margins. Some lobster fishers think the processors, buyers and brokers are reaping the profits. Every facet of the marketing line has to make a profit. Fishermen do have an entitlement to a fair price but would quickly put the processing sector out of business if they had the ability to set the price. Bottom line, fishermen need processors, processors need fishermen.
Promotion is just that, going to trade shows with promotional material, television advertisements in venues all over the world, Europe, China, Japan, etc. A combined Atlantic and Maine lobster levy coupled with matching levy from the processors is a process that can be legislated through the Natural Products Marketing Act throughout Atlantic Canada, each province with their own process. ACOA likes this kind of partnership. Fishermen will have the ability to promote lobster in all the world markets with revenue in the millions, with a mere one-cent per lb. levy.
This is when marketing comes in. As a result of this intensive promotion of Canadian lobster, processors will be contacted by brokers and buyers, make alliances, networking to achieve sales. It’s up to the processing sector to market the product. There would have to be oversight with a combined committee representing all fishermen’s associations, Atlantic-wide, each with an appointed representative on the promotion board whatever it might be called. The Lobster Council of Canada could play a role. As a suggestion I envision ‘The Bearded Skipper’ Norman Peters on the logo branding Canadian lobsters on the global market.
Minister MacKinley is right in stating that fishermen have to look after themselves. It is not up to government, in spite of political partisanship from the official Opposition in the House and on the wharf. It would be a huge mistake for government to intervene. Some fishers tend to blame government for everything and at the same time are unwilling to work together and achieve consensus. Lobster will always be a supply-demand situation. The protest last year brought fishermen together. That is the only positive. Maine fishermen coming to P.E.I. could start the dialogue towards a promotion company. Time is running out for a lot of fishers. Time is running out for young fishermen wishing to get a fleet. Time is running out for elderly fishermen to get a fair price for their enterprise going towards retirement.
Atlantic fishermen associations can do this without the Atlantic fisheries ministers meeting all winter. That level of bureaucracy tends to create roadblocks because they are all busy postulating and promoting there own political partisan positions, wasting time, nothing gets done as evidenced this past winter. Fishermen are still not now paying a levy despite the levy discussion which started more than a year ago.
Twenty thousand pounds of lobster for a season with a one-cent levy would be a mere $200, and a write off against income tax.
All the Atlantic/Maine regions should get on the same page to promote lobster. That is an incredible challenge. It’s the same product whether it is in Maine or P.E.I. Going with an Island Brand is, in my opinion, incredibly stupid. There just isn’t enough levy revenue from P.E.I. alone to do what needs to be done into a global market.
The next step is to contract a reputable promotion company to travel the world promoting our succulent lobster. I predict $6-$7 per lb. within three to four years if this is done right. Planning needs to start immediately. Promotion will create demand.
I am now a wild blueberry farmer and am extremely proud of the promotional arm of our wild blueberry industry. This has been an ongoing effort for years, creating demand for processed wild blueberries in Japan, U.S.A., Europe and China and elsewhere.
So why do I care? I love my Island, I love my community, and I love to witness success. If fishermen make money, they spend it and the economy wins.
Paul A. Gallant of Souris West had a family partnership in a lobster processing facility in Souris, and later spent 28 years as a DFO fishery officer talking to fishermen from Wood Islands around to Red Head.