UPDATE: P.E.I. lobster fishermen on strike

More than 700 Prince Edward Island lobster fishermen trade their traps for picket signs and head to Charlottetown demanding higher prices for their catch

Steve Sharratt comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on May 9, 2013

A rally in Charlottetown that drew more than 700 fishermen to protest low lobster prices is the first-time in Island history the fishing industry has stood together, tied up their boats, and shut itself down.

However, a meeting with processors late Thursday to demand higher prices has yet to yield any firm indication that more money is forthcoming.

CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS FROM THE LOBSTER PROTEST

"No one expected an immediate response, but we're working on it," said Mike McGeoghegan, president of the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association, about the private gathering with processors at a Charlottetown hotel.

"It will take some time." 

Almost every captain from Tignish to Wood Islands and North Lake to Covehead has tied up their boat, refused to fish, and turned out for the rally in front of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans building to show solidarity in seeking a better price.

But the cheers and chants of hundreds at the rally may not be enough to sway the decision of those that buy the lobster. With millions of pounds at stake, and ready to be landed over the next seven weeks, the race is on to finalize a better price.

“Divided we lose,’’ said Bearded Skipper Norman Peters of North Rustico, during the event that filled the parking lot and vacant lot next door to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans building across the street from the Sears department store.

There were so many cars and trucks, the overflow filled the parking lot at the Sears.

“I’ve never been prouder to be a fisherman,’’ said McGeoghegan, to the enormous crowd gathered under brilliant sunshine. “But we have to stay united on this.”

It's only been a week since the spring lobster season opened on P.E.I and prices were revealed as too low. Fishermen banded together to shut their industry down. Port by port, boats started to tie up and the support includes boats in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia even Newfoundland and Quebec.

“It wasn’t the Fishermen’s Association that said let’s do this (strike), it was individual fishermen who said they’ve had enough,’’ said the fisheries association president. “They decided to get together on this and strike.”

The current price is $2.75 for canners and $3.25 for markets, which is $2 less than the price on the mainland and a price most fishermen say can’t turn a profit.

“Everyone of us should be making money every year … borrowing money to stay fishing is ridiculous,” said McGeoghegan.

While there were plenty of fishermen, including some from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the crowd was also filled with public supporters and business people. The shutdown of the industry is costing the provincial economy an easy one million dollars a day.

A private meeting with processors later in the day drew only two reps and ended with P.E.I. Fisheries Minister Ron McKinley anxious to end the strike and broker a deal. 

"We're at loggerheads,'' he said.

Jeff Malloy of the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association said discussions would continue.

P.E.I. Fisheries Association executive director Ian MacPherson said there are contingency plans should the buyers and processors refuse to budge on price, but he would not say anything more. At this point, fishermen say they are planning to stay ashore until a price of around $5 a pound is confirmed.

“Never in the history of P.E.I. have all the boats tied up and refused to fish – be proud of that,’’ said MacPherson.

The current shore price for lobster is the same as it was in 1990 when bait was seven cents, fuel was 30 cents litre, and fishermen held free giveaways of their catch to protest prices.

“We’re sorry if drivers and plant workers are upset about this tie-up,’’ said fishermen and MLA Charlie McGeoghegan . “But we’re all affected by these low prices.”

Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Ben Taylor has granted a temporary injunction to prevent fishermen from blocking access to processing plants. The injunction is good until May 17 and the blockades, set up in ports like Beach Point and Georgetown, is not endorsed by the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association.

However, as of late Thursday the blockades remained in place.

 

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