Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Maine lobstermen say they do not expect much, if any, improvement in lobster prices in the wake of a deal between New Brunswick lobster processors and New Brunswick lobstermen Friday.
The deal ensures that members of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, which represents New Brunswick lobstermen, will receive $3.50 per pound for lobster from New Brunswick processors, compared to the $2.50 per pound the processors are paying for Maine lobster.
The deal followed a move by New Brunswick fishermen earlier this month to block access to the processing plants in protest of the low prices being paid for lobster. On Thursday, a Canadian judge granted a temporary injunction ordering protesters to stop.
Maine lobstermen said that while the reopening of the processing plants will keep them in business, they do not expect the New Brunswick processors to offer them any deals like they did to New Brunswick lobstermen.
John Drouin, a Cutler lobsterman and vice chairman of the Maine Lobster Advisory Council, a group of fishermen and dealers who work with the Department of Marine Resources to protect the industry, said the problem boils down to the fact that Maine lobstermen operate as independent business owners, compared to their Canadian counterparts, who are represented by unions that wield clout with the processors.
The deal is limited to 15,000 pounds per Canadian lobsterman. The cost of the deal will be split between the processing plants and the Maritime Fishermen's Union, which is financing and extending an existing loan to pay its share.
"Until the day comes when we become unionized or one big co-op, we are just 5,000 individuals," Drouin said.
Maine lobstermen have been reeling all summer from some of the lowest prices in a generation due to a glut of Maine's signature crustacean, with record high catches and sinking demand in a floundering economy.
More than half of Maine lobster is sent to Canada for processing, mostly in New Brunswick. Maine has only three major processing plants. Maine lobstermen said all three are not able to accept any additional Maine lobster this season because they are operating at capacity or have no market for more product.
Steve Train, a Long Island lobsterman, said he does not see how the deal between the New Brunswick lobstermen and processors will benefit Maine lobstermen.
"The Canadians are fortunate to have that kind of collective bargaining, camaraderie or whatever," Train said.
For now, Train said, he is not scrambling to fish like he normally would at this time of year.
"We are so marginal now I am almost looking for excuses not to go out, like does the porch need painting," Train said.
He said he is mainly going out just enough to keep the traps baited.
Maine lobstermen said U.S. antitrust laws put them at a disadvantage with their Canadian counterparts.
"We can't get together and interfere with federal commerce. You would see my hands between metal behind my back," Drouin said.
Drouin, who has been selling his catch to a dealer for about $1.95 a pound this summer, said his prices may increase 15 cents a pound in the coming week, mainly because hard-shell lobsters are coming in, the tourist season is still in high gear and there has been a drop-off in the catch in some areas.
But he doesn't expect any real change until the Maine industry makes some changes. The Lobster Advisory Council is now looking at whether limiting the catch, which reached a record 100 million pounds last year, would solve the present problem.
Drouin said it is one of the ironies of the Maine lobster industry, which has managed to become sustainable through limits on the number of traps, licenses and minimum and maximum sizes.
"Most fisheries say they have to limit the catch because the fishery is in decline. Here we are talking about limiting ourselves because we have too much product," Drouin said.
Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: