August 14, 2012

Lobster fishermen 'all in the same boat'

Even as an agreement averts a looming crisis in New Brunswick, lobstermen in Canada and Maine remain at the mercy of processors

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Jean-Pierre Cormier, the spokesman for a group of lobstermen on Aboiteau Wharf in Cap-Pele, New Brunswick, says, “We can’t fish for $2.50 a pound. How do you make a living on that?”

Photo by Gilles Landry

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The deal pays Canadian lobstermen about 50 cents per pound more than the market price. The cost will be split between the processing facilities and the Maritime Fishermen's Union. The union, which represents New Brunswick lobstermen, will pay its share by refinancing and extending an existing loan.

The negotiated prices are capped at 15,000 pounds per fisherman. After that, the price returns to the $3 rate.

Parsons said Cormier and others represent a small but loud voice among New Brunswick lobstermen. When lobstermen don't make money, they don't spend money, he said, and the many fishing communities along the eastern shore of New Brunswick are seeing the effects.

"We just want to go fishing," he said. "Every day we're not on the water is a day we're losing money.

"We feel like (processors) should be taking our lobsters over the U.S. lobsters. We're the ones who live here all year."

FRUSTRATION ON BOTH SIDES

Cormier's frustration is not unlike the recent frustration of Maine lobstermen, who staged their own protest by quietly tying up their boats in July to let the market process the lobster that already had been pulled from the water.

That helped, but only marginally.

Even though most attribute this year's problem to Mother Nature for warming the waters and causing the early glut of soft-shell lobsters, many feel that the industry is changing.

Maurice Guimond manages the Moncton Fish Market, a wholesaler and retailer of a variety of local seafood, including lobster. He's been watching the industry for more than a decade and said he's seen lobster devalued to the point that lobstermen can't pay their bills.

"Think about going into work one day and having your boss tell you that you're going to make $2 less an hour. That's what has happened to these lobstermen," he said.

Expenses like fuel and bait, meanwhile, have increased. At $2.50 per pound, Cormier said lobstermen cannot break even, especially in a short fishing season; $3 per pound is better, but only a little.

Guimond doesn't blame Canadian fishermen for venting their frustration. He knows times are hard. But he worries that the protests could backfire.

"If we're refusing Maine lobster, they could say 'to heck with (Canada) and send it elsewhere," he said. "Then, where would we be? It's not 'scratch my back and I'll break yours.' We need each other."

The protests prompted Le-Page to convene a meeting with the few in-state processors to see whether they could handle more capacity. This year's problem could lead to the establishment of more processors in Maine, but few have been willing to make that investment.

Linda Bean, who runs one of Maine's three processors, said Maine can't compete with Canada.

"We need an international trade agreement. We need to level the playing field," she said. "The problem is not marketing Maine lobster; it's a problem of the Canadian industry being subsidized."

Friday's deal between New Brunswick lobstermen and processors averted further turmoil, but it may not be enough to stop Maine from exploring alternatives.

SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP

More than half of Maine's lobster goes to Canada for processing, but about 80 percent of that comes back to the U.S. Until that equation changes, the industry needs both countries.

Pete Daley, vice president of Garbo Lobster in Hancock, said most Mainers recognize the importance of that symbiotic relationship.

"We're all in the same boat," said Daley, who had one of his trucks stopped during the initial protests. "There might be different seating arrangements, but we sink or swim together."

Parsons, with the New Brunswick lobstermen's union, said the current problem was predictable given the steep increase in the amount of lobster being caught.

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

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Maurice Guimond manages the Moncton Fish Market in Moncton, New Brunswick. “Think about going into work one day and having your boss tell you that you’re going to make $2 less an hour. That’s what has happened to these lobstermen,” he said.

Photo by Gilles Landry

  


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