MONCTON, New Brunswick — A court order issued today by a Canadian judge could allow lobster processors in New Brunswick to receive Maine lobsters again, at least temporarily.
A judge granted an injunction ordering protesters to stop blocking entrances to lobster processing facilities for the next 10 days, according to reports by CBC, confirmed by court officials in Moncton.
Last week, Canadian lobstermen protested the delivery of Maine lobsters to Canadian processors by blocking access to the facilities. The protesters said the U.S. product was being sold at too low a price and that Canadians could not compete. Fearing violence, the Maine trucks turned around and haven’t traveled east since.
As Canadian fishermen continue to negotiate this week with provincial officials about a solution, a group of five processors in southeastern New Brunswick requested the injunction from the Court of Queen’s Bench that would halt protests and allow product to flow in for processing.
The injunction is against the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, but New Brunswick officials have said that the protests are being led by a fringe group that believes the lobstermen’s union is not doing enough.
Jean-Pierre Cormier, a lobsterman from Cap-Pele, New Brunswick, and one of those protesting, said Maine lobstermen shouldn’t be giving away their catch.
“I understand why our processors want their cheap lobsters, but it’s killing us,” he said from his wharf today. “We can’t earn a living on $2.50 a pound.”
U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine – who on Wednesday asked the U.S. State Department to get involved on the lobster blockade – issued a statement saying she welcomed the injunction.
“While this court action stands over the next 10 days, it is my strong hope that both sides can coalesce around a path forward to rectify this situation and ensure Maine soft-shell lobster is shipped in a timely manner to the Canadian processors without intimidation, violence, or coercion,” she said.
New Brunswick Premier David Alward said in an interview with The Portland Press Herald late Wednesday that the relationship between his province and Maine when it comes to lobsters is symbiotic. He said he doesn’t want to jeopardize that relationship.
The 10-day reprieve could be good news for Maine lobstermen and dealers, who rely heavily on the New Brunswick processors to take their catch. The Maine lobster industry has been hampered all season by an early glut of soft-shell lobsters that has flooded the market and driven down prices.
To discuss the impact of the Canadian situation on the Maine lobster industry, Gov. Paul LePage has requested a Friday meeting with Maine’s three largest lobster processors.
Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster, Shucks Maine Lobster and Cozy Harbor Seafood were invited to attend, according to Linda Bean. Shucks and Cozy Harbor could not be immediately reached for comment.
“We need an international trade agreement. We need to level the playing field,” Bean said. “The problem is not marketing Maine lobster, it’s a problem of the Canadian industry being subsidized.”
Bean said she plans to raise to issue of a possible tariff on Canadian lobster sold in the U.S.
Bean also praised Snowe’s call for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to investigate the growing protests in New Brunswick and other eastern Canadian provinces.
“The secretary of state could have a lot of influence, but I think the U.S. Senate needs to get involved in a formal trade agreement — a possible adjustment of policy,” Bean said. “I’m very pleased the governor asked to meet with the processors.”
Last year, Maine harvested nearly 104.9 million pounds of lobster, according to the Department of Marine Resources.
“We’re processing just a fraction of that in Maine. We need more processing here,” Bean said. “But we can’t sell the product for enough to get incentivized to spend $2 million on a plant, compliance, labor. We get undercut by Canadian processors.”