HALIFAX — Fisheries ministers from the three Maritime provinces say they’re hoping for industry consensus to implement a fee to promote lobsters that would be paid by fishermen, buyers and processors.
© Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
The ministers are meeting in Halifax with harvesting and processing groups Wednesday and Thursday in an effort to strengthen the struggling lobster industry.
They are discussing a proposed levy of one cent per pound to be paid by fishermen, and another cent per pound to be paid by the onshore side of the industry to do a better job branding the crustacean.
Fisheries Minister Michael Olscamp of New Brunswick said industry agreement with the levy would give the three governments the green light to pass laws and create funding for marketing lobsters.
“It’s very important the levy be introduced because of the potential it offers in terms of making this a more efficient industry,” Olscamp said. “If we could have a consensus with the levy or at least a consensus to move forward in an expedient matter, I’d be happy about that.”
The levy was an idea recommended last year by a three-member panel that reviewed the lobster industry. The panel estimated it would raise about $2.5 million a year.
Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell and his P.E.I. counterpart Ron MacKinley said their governments could simply impose the levy, but they would rather do so with the industry clearly behind it.
“Exactly how we’d do it, I’m not sure yet,” Colwell said. “We can do it through regulation, not legislation. We could impose it, but I’d rather do it in conjunction with the industry.”
Colwell said one challenge is that there are more than 25 groups representing lobster fishermen in the province, and there is no umbrella group to speak for all of the harvesters.
MacKinley said in Prince Edward Island, there is a single fishermen’s organization and it supports the levy.
“My job is going to be easy in Prince Edward because we have on organization and we have them supporting the levy,” said MacKinley.
The New Brunswick branch of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, one of the region’s largest fishermen’s groups, is boycotting the meeting over a disagreement with Ottawa’s decision to boost the minimum lobster carapace size by one millimetre rather than two millimetres.
But the organization has passed a resolution saying it favours the levy and is urging the provincial governments to act quickly.
The panel report also concluded that fishermen and the various processing and buying groups involved in the lobster industry lack information, concentrate on quantity over quality, and don’t co-operate with each other.
The report also said Canadian fishermen have been losing market share to better-organized competitors in Maine and recommended a minimum price-setting mechanism be set up by industry groups and enforced by provincial governments. It said if the industry had stable prices and joint marketing efforts, the chaotic rush to be first to fish for lobster may decline.
But at the outset of the meeting, all three provincial governments said they found fishing groups in their jurisdictions were unlikely to quickly agree on such a price-setting system.