May 14, 2013

Low price for lobster stirs anger in Canada

But protests similar to the ones last year are not expected to target Maine.

The Associated Press

Protests in Canada over low lobster prices are rekindling memories of last summer, when Canadian fishermen blocked truckloads of Maine-caught lobsters from being delivered to processing plants, but industry members in Maine don't expect a repeat.

More than 2,000 lobstermen in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Quebec tied up their boats in the past week in protest, and some blocked lobster shipments at processing plants. Most lobstermen resumed fishing Tuesday, although several hundred in Prince Edward Island still refused to haul their traps.

The protests aren't directly connected to Maine, where the lobster catch is light at this time of year. But they show frustration about continuing low prices and the way prices are set, said Christian Brun, executive secretary of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, which represents about 1,300 fishermen in New Brunswick.

Brun doesn't expect a recurrence of last summer, when some Canadian fishermen blamed Maine's harvest for driving down prices in Canada.

Blockades brought Canada's lobster-processing industry to a near-standstill and created anxiety in Maine's lobster industry.

"I don't think we'll be seeing the same events as last year," Brun said. "We've spent eight months intensively talking to our harvesters in New Brunswick and having them understand the consequences of blocking trucks and doing that kind of action. Last year, nobody expected (such low prices) because the markets were doing so well in the spring."

Last year's record spring catches in Maine and Canada produced a glut of lobsters and 1990s-level prices for fishermen. For the year, Maine fishermen caught a record 126 million pounds of lobster but received only $2.69 a pound on average, the lowest price since 1994.

Maine Lobstermen's Association Executive Director Patrice McCarron said tension between Canada and Maine should ease this summer because everyone's more prepared, market conditions have improved and nobody's anticipating an early lobster glut.

"Last summer was a season of extremes," she said. "Almost everything that happened was unpredictable, was outside of the norm. ... In 2013, we're collectively more prepared for the unexpected."

Matt McAleney of New Meadows Lobster in Portland said he's confident that there won't be any Canadian blockades of Maine product.

"I don't see it," he said. "The boat price is higher (in Maine) and we aren't having an early glut of lobsters."

Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said he gets daily briefings from a staffer on what's been happening in Canada. It appears that Maine won't have the large early season volume it had last year and that Canadian processors are prepared in case there is an influx, he said.

"The big issue is Canadian fishermen reacting to a downturn in prices, whether they're ready for the volume or not," he said.

Still, it's unprecedented to have fishermen from all over Atlantic Canada tie up their boats in solidarity, said Ian MacPherson, executive director of the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association, which represents more than 1,250 lobstermen.

Blake Wood, a fisherman in Prince Edward Island, said he and two other fishermen hauled out their boats late last week to block the entrance to a lobster-processing plant while 100 or so fishermen protested outside.

Maine fishermen should also tie up their boats to keep product off the market in hopes of driving up prices, Wood said.

 

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