Inaction not option for P.E.I. lobster fishermen, meeting hears

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Lobster fishermen along P.E.I.'s North Shore will be voting in the next few weeks on key recommendations facing the industry — including whether it’s in favour of a levy.

Mike McGeoghegan, left, president of the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association, attends a meeting in North Rustico on Tuesday key recommendations contained in reports on the lobster industry. With him are Lee Gallant, centre, association treasurer, and fisherman Jamie Gauthier.

That was one of the key recommendations released recently in two reports on the industry, the first by the Maritime Lobster Panel set up by Atlantic premiers and the second by former P.E.I. auditor general Colin Younker.

The options were the main topic of conversation at a meeting Tuesday hosted by the North Shore Fishermen’s Association.

One thing was crystal clear — fishermen, looking for a better price on their lobsters, can’t sit by and wait for things to get better.

“I hear people saying that we’ve got to do something,’’ said Norm Peters, who has been fishing for 50 years and suggested a levy 20 years ago where fishermen would pay one cent for every pound of lobster.

Even Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley, who was at Tuesday’s meeting, didn’t mince words.

“Do you go out fishing next summer and, after a couple of weeks, complain about the price or do you do something about it?’’ MacKinley told the fishermen bluntly.

There are four key recommendations. One is a price-setting that would be voluntary but legislated, develop a market intelligence institute to collect good information, institute a levy to help pay for the first two recommendations, and fourthly it would also pay for generic promotion of Atlantic Canadian lobster.

Richard Gallant, deputy minister of Fisheries, said if Island fishermen pool their funds with those in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, they would collectively have $2 million to pay for generic promotion.

To provide some perspective on marketing costs, a full page lobster advertisement in the Globe and Mail would cost $100,000.

“I think the fishermen are supportive of some of the key recommendations in these reports and we want to promote dialogue because there are some decisions the fishermen are going to have to make in the next few weeks or months if they want to embrace some change in the industry before they go fishing in the spring,’’ Gallant said.

Mike McGeoghegan, president of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association, said he’s never seen such difficult times.

“We had quite a year,’’ said McGeoghegan. “Nothing like I’ve seen in my 35 years in the industry. The whole game has changed. We need a system reset.’’

He pointed out that prices have dropped 25 per cent in the past seven years alone, from $5.50/$6.50 per pound to less than $3. The association has long maintained that a price of at least $4 a pound for canner or smaller lobster and $5 a pound for market size lobster is needed for the industry to survive.

Peters says fishermen realize change is coming.

“I think they know they’re going to have to pay a little bit to get going in this industry. We can’t just sit back,’’ Peters said. “(If we do nothing) I don’t think we’ll end up tied up again but we’ll not be any further ahead. What we’ve got to do is try and get a price, something minimum that we understand and can work with.’’

In the next few weeks, a plebiscite of sorts will take place in LFA24 where fishermen will have three or four question to answer - such as whether fishermen favour paying a penny-per-pound levy or write a one-time cheque for $200 or $300 when they get their tags.

“Let’s build up a fund.’’

Emphasis was also placed at the meeting on working with associations in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick so that the price is the same in all three provinces, preventing processors from searching for cheaper prices in a region that catches 90 per cent of the lobster in Canada.

However, Peters said he’s hearing fishermen in other areas of P.E.I. don’t want to do anything and that remains a concern.

“I’ve always felt that it’s a Canadian resource. We should be paying something into it.’’

Organizations: Maritime Lobster Panel, Globe and Mail

Geographic location: P.E.I. Fishermen, North Shore Fishermen, Nova Scotia New Brunswick Iceland LFA24 Canada

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