August 6, 2012

Maine warily monitors lobster protests

State officials don’t want the plant closing in Canada to spread to other processors and leave Maine with a backlog of product.

The Associated Press

PORTLAND — Maine officials are hoping for a resolution to a simmering dispute in New Brunswick after Canadian lobstermen blocked shipments of low-priced Maine lobsters to processing plants in their country.

click image to enlarge

Fishermen in Cap-Pele, New Brunswick, blocked access to several processing plants Thursday to protest an influx of Maine lobster after being told they would be expected to provide fewer lobsters when their season opens next week.

Greg Agnew / Moncton Times & Transcript

click image to enlarge

Maine truck driver Leonard Garnett of Steuben talks with police at a Shediac, New Brunswick, processing plant after fishermen blocked his truck with the intention of leaving his load of lobsters to rot.

Greg Agnew / Moncton Times & Transcript

New Brunswick fishermen last week blockaded several processing plants, forcing them to close and shipments containing tens of thousands of pounds of lobsters to be sent back to Maine.

Maine lobster dealers for the most part have found other Canadian processors to ship to, said Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher, who was in contact over the weekend and on Monday with New Brunswick Fisheries Minister Michael Olscamp. Olscamp said his department will continue to negotiate with fishermen as long as processing plants are allowed to open Tuesday.

"The concern is that it becomes widespread," Keliher said. "If a majority of processors in Canada weren't taking lobster then we'd end up with a backlog of product, and that'd be bad."

Maine and the Canadian Maritimes have had a glut of lobster this summer following strong harvests in the spring and early summer. The glut has driven down prices for both fishermen and consumers.

New Brunswick fishermen last Thursday staged demonstrations outside processing plants in Shediac and Cap-Pele. Fishermen are blaming inexpensive Maine lobsters for driving down prices in Canada just days before the lobster fishing season begins in those towns.

An agreement announced Friday calls for lobster-processing plants to pay lobstermen at least $2.50 per pound for lobsters that are processed and $3 per pound for live-market lobsters.

Olsman issued a statement Sunday saying processors have agreed to make sure all fishermen are able to sell their catch locally, but he also denied reports that the provincial government is planning to compensate fishermen for the low prices. One radio report erroneously reported that the New Brunswick government would pay each lobsterman $5,000, he said.

In the meantime, dealers in Maine are keeping a wary eye on Canada, where most of Maine's annual catch is shipped to processors, which turn the live lobsters into meat and frozen products. There are about two dozen lobster processors in Canada, while Maine has three processors of any size.

Peter McAleney, owner of New Meadows Lobster in Portland, said the demonstrations in New Brunswick haven't had any effect on him. Rather than ship to processors in New Brunswick, he's shipping his lobsters to other processors in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec, he said.

"We'll just bypass New Brunswick and let them take care of their problems," McAleney said.

But a lot of processors in Canada are running at or near full capacity, making it difficult for some lobster distributors in Maine to find plants to ship to if they were previously sending loads to the blockaded plants in New Brunswick, said Dana Rice, a lobster dealer in the eastern Maine town of Gouldsboro.

"If one processor shuts down, then everybody's scrambling," he said.


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