Paying a little to earn a lot

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The P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association has given its endorsement to some of the recommendations in two recently released reports on the lobster fishery.

The association calls the current situation a crisis and that is what it is. Prices have plummeted while costs continue to rise.

Every time lobster prices get discussed, though, some people who have no direct involvement in any kind of commercial fishery are quick to criticize fishermen for wanting more and more and more, as if there is something fundamentally wrong with that.

The fact is, there is nothing at all wrong with fishermen wanting to get a reasonable price for their catch. The association points out fishermen earned 25 per cent less per pound for their lobsters this year than they did seven years ago. In a sense, that’s equivalent to someone who earned $20 an hour in the workforce in 2006 receiving just $15 an hour today when most workers would have expected to see their wages rise.

Actual landed value likely has not gone down 25 per cent, though, as catches have increased dramatically in recent years. That increase in landings explains part of the drop in prices, as they are largely driven by supply and demand.

If lobster prices had gone up or remained stable that increase in landings would have put more money in fishermen’s pockets, just like a building boon benefits carpenters.

The association puts its support behind a recommendation calling for fishermen and processors to pay a levy from their catch to be applied towards marketing. That’s a positive step. The cent or two per pound fishermen would pay for marketing could end up earning them thousands of dollars a year if the marketing campaign does what it is intended to do and boosts prices.

The trouble is, the cost of the levy is easy to measure but the results of the marketing campaign are not. Fishermen can easily calculate how much the levy is costing them.

In supporting the levy proposal, though, the association is putting forth that the federal and provincial government should match the industry’s marketing contribution.

That is not a reasonable expectation. Great if the government kicks in, as more marketing dollars should translate into a bigger payday, but if industry truly believes a levy for marketing will help boost prices, that should be enough. The levy should not be regarded as a sacrifice, but as an investment towards a potentially large pay-off.

Then there’s less danger of government interference in how the product is marketed and less chance of the fishermen’s contributions getting used in ways they were not intended.

Besides, the optics are better when industry pays its own way to prosperity.

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