Fishermen consider fair trade lobster brand

Steve Sharratt
Published on March 5, 2014
Lobster traps sit on a Prince Edward Island wharf, prior to the beginning of the fall lobster season. Low prices continue to plague the industry. A report will be released Thursday on the state of the industry.
TC Media photo by Ryan Cooke

Island fishermen may take a page from Third World economics by creating a “fair trade” component in their industry and an exclusive P.E.I. brand of lobster.

“We may have to start our own fishermen’s brand with our own label and a fair trade component built in to bring more money to the fishermen,’’ said Mike McGeoghegan, president of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association.

It was just one of the many topics discussed by fishermen at their recent weekend convention in Charlottetown, which also included a call for a mail-out vote on whether to refuse to fish this spring without a guaranteed price.

The association has been working on the development of a distinct P.E.I. branding for lobster and working with the Lobster Council of Canada towards promotion on a Canadian lobster as well. The effort is to stay on par with U.S. competitor Maine, which approved a marketing levy and is using a pot of money to promote its own brand as well.

“Direct communication with the provinces and the States takes us out of the dark ages,” said the Pinette-based fisherman. “It pushes us towards a vision that will reinvent P.E.I.’s number one fishery towards prosperity.”

Fair trade is well known with the coffee industry, in which customers pay a higher price when buying certified coffee with the knowledge more money is going to the producer.

“We would have a certified P.E.I. lobster that would sold for a premium price,’’ said McGeoghegan. “Everyone knows the price is way too low… even the public who have shown us support.”

Premier Robert Ghiz said the P.E.I. lobster “story” has to be told around the world to help expand markets and he congratulated initial approval by fishermen to consider a marketing levy to bolster promotion.

“When you do well, the province does well,’’ he told fishermen gathered at the Delta Prince Edward. “The (two recent lobster industry) reports say there is room for big economic growth but we can’t sit back and wait for the phone to ring.”

Ghiz said every time fishermen get a five cent per pound price increase it means another $7 million to their industry and $14 million to the province.

“I wish I had a magic wand and could make the price go up this year,’’ he said.

Fishermen are anxious for a price increase this spring after low prices of $3 a pound last year sparked a boat tie during the first week of the season. The annual 27 million pound catch is now equally divided between both markets and canners.

“I see a bright future,” said McGeoghegan. “But we need to take the myth off the scales that P.E.I. is not a shippable lobster and we need the science to prove we have top grade product.”