Fishermen want vote on set price for lobster

Steve Sharratt comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 28, 2014

P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association President Mike McGeoghegan checks out the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans booth at the annual convention Friday with fellow board member Ken Drake. The convention is being held at the Delta Prince Edward in Charlottetown.

©Guardian photo by Steve Sharratt

P.E.I. lobster fishermen want an open vote to decide whether to tie up their boats and shut down the entire industry this spring without a guaranteed price.

“I’m sick and I’m tired of going fishing for nothing,’’ said fisherman Roger O’Neill, during the opening day of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association convention Friday in Charlottetown.

P.E.I. FISHERMEN'S ASSOCIATION ASKS MEDIA TO LEAVE MEETING IN CHARLOTTETOWN. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL STORY.

“I think we should make sure we have a price before we set one trap this year.”

O’Neill made the statement during a report being delivered by association president Mike McGeoghegan, who said while work was underway to establish a shore price, there was still nothing final.

Last year was called “the perfect storm” and yielded the worst prices ever. It sparked a solidarity strike when fishermen from around the Maritimes refused to fish during the first two weeks of the season. However, the protest against a $3 lobster caved in when fishermen began breaking ranks and the strike failed by mid-May.

“We would be better off swinging a hammer or driving a truck in Alberta than delivering cheap lobster that makes a profit for everyone else,” said O’Neil, a Murray Harbour fishermen who insisted fishermen demand a $5 lobster this year.

Association board member Wayne Campbell from Montague said the association has lobbied long and hard for a “set” price this year and offered O’Neill his place at the table when fishermen meet with processors again at the Charlottetown Hotel on March 5.

The idea of refusing to fish this spring without a guaranteed price fuelled the desires of some of the hundreds of fishermen who filled the ballroom at the Delta Prince Edward in Charlottetown.

“We should have a vote,’’ one cried out.

The board of directors agreed, but disallowed a show of hands in the room.

“There are too many fishermen out west right now or away and it has to be fair,’’ said board member and Morell fishermen Ken Drake during an interview. “We will have to figure out some kind of mail out ballot or something before the season begins.”

McGeoghegan said the association welcomes democracy and fishermen will have a chance to vote.

“We all feel (as fishermen) the frustration of not having a set price before we haul,” he said. “So if fishermen want to vote on this before the season begins, so be it.”

P.E.I. fishermen landed over 27 million pounds of lobster last year at an estimated economic value to the province of over $100 million.

One veteran fisheries observer said the P.E.I. processing sector is dysfunctional and is one reason there is never a confirmed shore price.

“You don’t sling donuts here without knowing what your pay will be,’’ he said.

One processor who sat in on the meeting declined comment while leaving the convention centre but did provide The Guardian with an off the record comment.

“If these guys think there’s enough money to be paid a five buck lobster,” he said. “Why don’t they buy one of the many plants up for sale in Kings County?”

Conservative MLA Colin Lavie, a Souris fisherman, completely dodged questions when asked about the vote on a possible boat tie up this spring. He insisted it was up to the fishermen and even as a fisherman he would offer no opinion.

“It will be a split vote of course,” offered North Rustico fisherman Norm “The Bearded Skipper” Peters. “There’s just too many young guys who can’t afford not to fish.”