August 11, 2012

Some good news: Maine lobster returns to Canada

Meanwhile, LePage's administration meets with lobster processors to discuss long-term solutions to the oversupply.

By Eric Russell
Staff Writer

and Steve Mistler
Staff Writer

FREDERICTON, New Brunswick – Maine lobster flowed back into Canada on Friday, one day after a judge ordered protesters to stop blocking access to processing facilities.

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Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press Maine lobstermen take a break while doing maintenance work in Portland on Thursday. More than half of all lobsters caught in Maine goes to Canada for processing, but in a meeting Friday state officials began talking about increasing processing capacity in Maine.


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John Hathaway, president of Shucks Maine Lobster, said, "(Maine’s lobster industry is hurt by) a foolish business model. ... What we need to do is add value and jobs here.”

Joe Phelan / Staff Photographer

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A handful of processors in eastern New Brunswick confirmed that they had reopened and were accepting lobster from Maine.

Meanwhile, some of the Canadian lobstermen who have protested the low price they are being offered for their catch met Friday with New Brunswick Premier David Alward. A spokeswoman for Alward said they discussed industry-led resolutions and strategies aimed at preventing similar disputes in the future, but she declined to release further details.

In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage's administration met Friday with two of Maine's biggest lobster processors to discuss long-term solutions to the oversupply. An administration official described it as a "fact-finding mission."

Thursday's court action in Canada -- which set restrictions on demonstrations at New Brunswick's processing plants for 10 days -- was good news for the Maine lobster industry, which has been reeling all season because of a glut of soft-shell lobsters. Prices that lobstermen receive have fallen to 30-year lows of $2 to $2.50 a pound.

More than half of all lobsters caught in Maine goes to Canada for processing, and bordering New Brunswick has the most processors by far.

The problem in Canada is complex. It has divided fishermen and processors, who have always had a give-and-take relationship, and it also has caused tension among the fishermen themselves.

Jeff Parsons, who is on the executive board of the Maritime Fisheries Union, said the protests have been orchestrated by a small but vocal group of frustrated lobstermen in southeastern New Brunswick.

"I'm a reasonable guy, and I want to work on a solution," he said. "For some guys, though, they see only what they want to see."

Over the last couple of days, as New Brunswick's processors have been idle, there has been unease about whether the protests will strain the relationship between Maine and Canada when it comes to lobster.

Alward stressed that Maine is an integral partner in the lobster industry, but LePage and others have begun talking about increasing processing capacity in Maine.

Before that happens, the administration said, the state must boost demand for Maine lobsters.

Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources, said after Friday's meeting with processors that promoting the Maine lobster brand is necessary if processing plants are going to be financially viable in this state.

"I want to stress that this is just the beginning of a fact-finding mission," said Keliher, who hinted that policy changes may be coming to help increase demand.

Linda Bean, part of the L.L. Bean family and a LePage supporter, met with the governor, along with John Hathaway, owner of Shucks Maine Lobster in Richmond.

Bean said the state should invest in marketing and work harder to make sure customers can tell the difference between Maine lobsters and those from elsewhere. She said certification would boost demand for Maine lobsters in other regions.

Bean also floated the idea of adding a tax on Canadian lobsters, which she said can be sold for less because the Canadian industry receives government subsidies. That idea appears to face long odds, given that the North American Free Trade Agreement says Canadian products are duty-free.

Still, Bean expressed hope that Maine's congressional delegation will consider advancing the idea.

"I'm not a protectionist, but we need protection or else we won't be able to sell in volume," she said.

Hathaway told The Associated Press that Maine processors need more marketing to draw more customers.

It makes no sense, he said, for Maine's lobster industry to send tens of millions of pounds of lobsters to Canada each year and have Canadian companies create products that are sold back in the United States.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Said Patrick Keliher of the Department of Marine Resources: “I want to stress that this is just the beginning of a fact-finding mission.”

Joe Phelan / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Linda Bean, owner of Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine LLC, said “I’m not a protectionist, but we need protection or else we won’t be able to sell in volume.”

Joe Phelan / Staff Photographer


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