ALBERTON -- P.E.I. Minister of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Rural Development, Ron MacKinley is confident his federal counterpart is not going to make any rushed decisions in the Lobster Fishing Area 25 dispute between P.E.I. and New Brunswick lobster fishermen.
MacKinley traveled to New Brunswick Friday for a face-to-face with Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield and presented the Prince Edward Island case for leaving the minimum carapace size at which lobsters can be legally landed at 72 millimeters.
The Maritime Fishermen’s Union in New Brunswick, the New Brunswick government and processors in that province are all seeking to have the minimum measure stretched to 77 mm by 2015.
MacKinley said he stressed to Ashfield that increasing the measure would be devastating to the Prince Edward Island lobster industry. “I explained out to the minister that 80 per cent of the canner lobsters are caught in P.E.I., 20 per cent in New Brunswick. Nova Scotia is not even a player in the canner business,” the P.E.I. minister summarized. He advised Ashfield that 56 per cent of the lobsters landed in P.E.I. are canners. Most of those lobsters would be illegal if the minimum size was pushed upward.
“Our processors in P.E.I. have markets for the small canner lobsters,” MacKinley said in a telephone interview as he made his way home from his meeting with Ashfield Friday. “You have to remember, 56 per cent of our lobsters over the last two years were canners and they’re all getting sold.”
MacKinley presented the widely held P.E.I. position that the New Brunswick push for the carapace increase is coming from processors in that province. He said those mainland processors handle more lobster from Maine than what is landed by New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island fall fishermen combined.
You have to remember, 56 per cent of our lobsters over the last two years were canners and they’re all getting sold - P.E.I. Fisheries, Aquaculture and Rural Development minister, Ron MacKinley
He questioned whether New Brunswick government and the processors are concerned for the financial well-being of the fishermen in their province, suggesting they seem more concerned with insuring that the flow of lobster into New Brunswick from Maine continues.
“There’s a little shell game going on here,” MacKinley said, “and I see that New Brunswick fishermen, as far as I’m concerned, could get caught in the crossfire.”
MacKinley said it doesn’t make economical sense to get out of the canner industry, considering P.E.I. has developed a niche market for those lobsters. “There is a glut of market lobsters on the market,” he added, “so why would you want to put more on?”
The P.E.I. lobster industry is currently preparing its case for leaving the measure alone. That is due to be presented to DFO by Wednesday. MacKinley said he’s confident P.E.I. has a strong case.
Although he said he is not ruling out another meeting with his federal counterpart, MacKinley was encouraged about his hour and 10 minute meeting with Ashfield. “He listened. I give him credit for that.”
Regional personnel with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were not available Friday for an interview on the P.E.I.-New Brunswick lobster positions. The Department, however, provided the following prepared statement:
“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is committed to an economically prosperous fishery that creates jobs and helps enable prosperity for Atlantic Canadians.
“The Department will continue to work with all involved in the Lobster Fishing Area 25 fishery in order to find solutions that work for the industry on both sides of the Northumberland Strait.”