The debate of whether to focus on better marketing or investigate low prices in the lobster industry boiled over during the Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association’s annual convention on Saturday.
The weekend saw Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, and PEIFA president Mike McGeoghegan go head-to-head during a portion of the convention.
Irvine made a presentation that largely focused on marketing lobster, as well as a proposed penny per pound levy to Island fishermen to go towards building a marketing fund.
About 75 per cent of north shore fishermen have already voted on holding a levy this season with the province’s other two fishing areas also now planning to hold a vote on the issue.
However, many members of the PEIFA seemed to feel the urgency of addressing prices for the upcoming season were missed by the lobster council.
McGeoghegan, who spoke after the presentation, said a fair trade component has been missing from the council’s work.
He also said he was disappointed the council didn’t “follow the money” to see what has caused an apparent disconnect in prices.
“It’s been four years now and there is nothing we can put our hands on,” said McGeoghegan. “He (Irvine) is saying that marketing pays, and I believe that. But there should be a fair trade component to it.”
Last year’s $3 landing prices sparked a solidarity strike from fishermen around the Maritimes during the first two weeks of the season.
While that strike caved in by mid-May, fishermen haven’t forgotten about the low prices.
The issue played a big part in the convention, with members calling for a vote on whether to tie up boats again this year.
Fisherman Charlie McGeoghegan questioned Irvine why the council didn’t speak out during the tie-up and pointed to specific reports of high lobster prices around the world.
And even close to home, said McGeoghegan.
“We went to a restaurant in Moncton and lobster was 27 dollars for one pound while the fall fishermen on P.E.I. were getting $2.75,” he said. “There’s something wrong.”
However, the issue of price was disputed by Irvine.
“You have to be careful when you say this, the market prices have gone down,” he said.
Irvine will seek “unification” at the Lobster Summit in Halifax in late March and said the marketing levy must also be legislated and collected by the provincial governments.
The levy follows a similar effort by Maine fishermen.
With Irvine stating that one dollar in marketing could result in generating a up to a possible nine dollars, Mike McGeoghegan said P.E.I. fishermen want to know what the actual return would be and whether processors and buyers would also chip in to the levy.
“If we’re going to put money on the table, the fishermen of Prince Edward Island want to see action, not words,” he said. “We can’t do what we’re doing anymore until we get the price of lobster up, something has to change.”