August 9, 2012

Lobster dispute reaches boiling point

As protests by Canadian lobstermen intensify, Maine Sen. Snowe urges the U.S. secretary of state to look into the international conflict.

EDWARD D. MURPHY and ERIC RUSSELL / Staff Writers

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Protests in the Canadian Maritimes continued to escalate as more than 200 lobstermen converged on the offices of federal fisheries minister Keith Ashfield in Fredericton, New Brunswick, on Wednesday. Above, lobsterman Albert Hebert of Saint-Louis-de-Kent awaits access to the offices while, below, protesters attach signs to the entrance of the building. A meeting with Ashfield is scheduled Friday.

Photos by Stephen MacGillivray/The Daily Gleaner

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Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Canada told Snowe's office that the senator's concern about "acts of intimidation, violence, or coercion" were forwarded to Royal Canadian Mounted Police in New Brunswick.

Alward said he is concerned about safety, too, but is confident that cooler heads will prevail.

Sen. Susan Collins and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud also have pressured Canadian officials to resolve the matter.

Like Snowe, Michaud contacted the State Department, saying the protests have the potential to harm lobstermen and create "a safety concern for our truckers" who take the catch to Canadian plants.

Patrick Keliher, Maine's marine resources commissioner, said there may not be many trucks carrying lobsters north, with "a majority" of Canada's 32 processing plants expected to be closed over the next few days.

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.

Mainers who rely on lobsters for their livelihood can do little but watch.

Pete Daley, vice president of Garbo Lobster in Hancock, had one of his trucks stopped in New Brunswick last week. He hasn't sent out any lobsters since then.

"We're in daily communication with the processors, but until they tell me I can ship our product, we're not going to risk it," he said Wednesday from his company's headquarters. "It's a volatile situation and I don't want to say anything to inflame it."

With Canadian processors not taking Maine lobsters, Keliher said he's worried about a backlog of lobster.

Maine lobstermen had pinned their hopes for higher prices on Canadian plants, which didn't take shipments until they started catching lobsters whose shells were hard enough to survive the transport.

Keliher said prices paid to lobstermen in Maine on Tuesday were about $2.25 to $2.75 a pound, near last month's record lows.

In Scarborough, lobstermen were getting $2.35 a pound for soft-shell lobsters and about $5 a pound for hard shells on Wednesday, said Susan Bayley of Bayley's Lobster Pound.

Bayley said she expects the price for soft shells will fall back near historic lows of about $2 a pound within a few days.

"We expect to see a drop in the boat price by Monday," she said. "There will be a backup because of what's happening in Canada. Supply is going to get larger and larger, and if there's no place to send them, there's going to be too much."

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," said Patrice McCarron, the association's executive director, said in a written 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."

Alward, the New Brunswick premier, said he doesn't know what the next step will be but everyone is working to find a solution.

John Chilibeck of the Telegraph-Journal in St. John, New Brunswick, contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

 

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