August 10, 2012

Flow of Maine lobster resumes to Canadian processors

By Eric Russell
Staff Writer

FREDERICTON, New Brunswick — Maine lobster flowed back into Canada today, one day after a judge ordered protesters to stop blocking access to processing facilities.

A handful of processors in eastern New Brunswick confirmed that they had reopened and were accepting product from Maine.

Meanwhile, some of the New Brunswick lobstermen who have protested loudly about the low price they are being offered for the catch were scheduled to meet with fisheries minister Michael Olscamp today to discuss a solution.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether that meeting happened or would happen. New Brunswick Premier David Alward said he’s been talking to all parties but could not confirm a meeting between the protesters and Olscamp.

Thursday’s court action was good news for the Maine lobster industry, which has been reeling all season by a flood of too much product into the market. More than half of all lobsters caught in Maine go to Canada for processing and bordering New Brunswick has the most processors by far.

But the problem on the Canadian side is complex. It has divided fishermen and processors, who have always had a give-and-take relationship, but it also has caused tension among the fishermen themselves.

Jeff Parsons, who is on the executive board of the Maritime Fisheries Union, said the protests have been orchestrated by a small but loud group of frustrated lobstermen in southeastern New Brunswick.

“I’m a reasonable guy, and I want to work on a solution,” he said today. “For some guys, though, they see only what they want to see.”

Parsons said he doesn’t blame his fellow lobstermen for being frustrated, but he’s not sure their actions have been productive. A judge on Thursday called those actions illegal and set restrictions on
any demonstrating at New Brunswick processors for the next 10 days.

Jean-Pierre Cormier, one of the lead protesters, said he and others must be allowed to fight for their livelihood.

“We’re trying to make a living,” he said, adding that the union is not doing enough to ensure a good price.

Over the last couple days, as New Brunswick processors have been idle, there has been unease about whether the protests will put a strain on the future relationship between Maine and Canada when it comes to lobster.

Premier Alward stressed that Maine is an integral partner in the lobster industry, but Maine Gov. Paul LePage and others already have begun talking about increasing processing capacity in Maine.

If Maine sends fewer lobsters to New Brunswick for processing, that development would be worse than what is happening at the moment, Alward said.

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