WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is asking U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to look into the lobster war waging between Maine lobstermen and their counterparts in Canada.
Clinton’s involvement should be helpful, said Maine Department of Marine Fisheries Commissioner Patrick Keliher, but there are no signs that a signfiicant change imminent.
Canadian lobstermen, upset over low prices caused by a glut of U.S. lobster being sent to Canadian processing plants, have blocked shipments and forced several plants to close down.
Snowe told Clinton that the situation is “unacceptable” and asked her to raise it with Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird and make it a priority in U.S.-Canadian relations.
“This is an unacceptable situation that must be rectified immediately,” said Snowe, who added that the dispute could be economically devastating to Maine lobstermen, who are dealing with low prices for their catch on both sides of the border.
Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Canada told Snowe’s office that the senator’s concern over “acts of intimidation, violence, or coercion” were forwarded to Royal Canadian Mounted Police officials in New Brunswick.
In New Brunswick, the lobstermen took their protest to government offices this morning, CBC reported, and processors are starting to refuse to take Maine lobster in response to the protests.
Keliher said a handful of processors, particularly on Prince Edward Island, are agreeing to process only the Maine lobster they have on hand and won’t take any more shipments.
He also said that Canadian lobstermen have delayed the start of their season to put further pressure on the processors and government.
New Brunswick provincial officials have said they won’t subsidize lobster prices for Canadian fishermen and the processing plants are shutting down until their local lobstermen head out next week. The season for a key stretch of Canadian fishing grounds officially opened Monday.
With Canadian processors refusing to take Maine lobster, Keliher said he’s worried about a backlog of lobster in Maine, basically a repeat of the July glut that caused prices to crater. Maine lobstermen had pinned hopes for a recovery on the Canadian plants, where shipments resumed once Maine fishermen started to catch lobsters whose shells were hard enough to survive shipment.
Keliher said prices paid lobstermen in Maine Tuesday were about $2.25 to $2.75 a pound, near the record lows hit last month.
According to the CBC report, protesters showed up at the office of federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield in Fredericton. The protesters got a meeting with an assistant after being told that Ashfield was away, but several of the lobstermen also tossed lobster traps into a reception area.
They removed the traps after being promised a meeting with Ashfield on Friday,
Officials have offered compensation to the Canadian lobstermen, but the lobstermen’s union has rejected the offer. The proposed compensation has not been disclosed.
In Maine, lobstermen expressed sympathy for the Canadians’ plight but decried their tactics.
“The Maine Lobstermen’s Association is in complete sympathy with the economic situation facing Canadian fishermen but strongly rejects methods that disrupt, threaten, interfere with or otherwise impose obstacles on international commerce,” Patrice McCarron, the executive director of the association, said in a statement.
“Maine and Canadian lobster industries have long shared a collaborative, constructive relationship that respects and facilitates vigorous competition,” the statement said. “The MLA urges protesting fishermen to end their interference with shipments of Maine lobster and work to resolve their issues with government and processing plants …. The Maine Lobstermen’s Association calls on the Canadian government to act promptly and effectively to restore order.”
Meanwhile, seafood.com reported that South Shore Seafoods in Rosebank, PEI, had agreed to take no more Maine lobster after processing what it already had on hand.
The agreement followed protests at the plant by about 200 lobstermen. In return for refusing to take Maine lobster, the fishermen said they would not blockade the plant.