Fisheries ministers agree to set up panel in effort to resolve lobster dispute
Published Wednesday, May 15, 2013 12:19PM ADT Last Updated Wednesday, May 15, 2013 7:20PM ADT
AMHERST, N.S. -- Fisheries ministers from the Maritimes have agreed to set up a panel in an effort to resolve a lobster pricing dispute that kept fishing boats tied up at wharves throughout the region for days.
Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Sterling Belliveau said the panel will review a number of issues including allegations of price-fixing and efforts to set prices before fishermen set their traps.
"I know as a fisherman that you can literally go out and fish for a week and you do not have a sale price on your day's catch," Belliveau said Wednesday after meeting with his counterparts in Amherst, N.S.
"That is a question that the industry wants addressed."
New Brunswick Fisheries Minister Michael Olscamp said it's imperative that the panel come up with some answers that alleviate the concerns of both fishermen and seafood processors.
"I'd be very disappointed if we came away without a solution," Olscamp said.
"Markets are very volatile and there has got to be some flexibility there, but I think all of us share the concern that we don't want to be answering these questions again next year."
The announcement came a day after fishermen headed back onto the water, concluding a weeklong protest that saw them tie up their boats to draw attention to lobster prices that have fallen to about $4 per pound in Nova Scotia and as low as $3.25 in Prince Edward Island.
Fishermen have said they are seeking prices similar to what they were receiving last year, at around $4.50 to $5 per pound. But processors have said they can't afford that.
Ronnie Heighton, president of the Northumberland Fisherman's Association, said news of the panel is a positive step.
"We've got to do something different than what we're doing now," Heighton said in an interview.
"There's too much mistrust in the industry and the only way to solve it is for everyone to lay their cards openly on the table."
He welcomed discussion about the possibility of setting prices in advance, saying fishermen often don't know until they've been out at sea for up to two weeks what they will be paid for their catches.
"We've always been fishing in the dark," he said.
Heighton, who fishes for lobster out of Cape John, N.S., said he hopes fisheries groups have a say in determining who is on the panel, adding that it should include people directly and indirectly involved in the industry.
Belliveau said the ministers have asked their staff to report back in two weeks with the names of people they recommend to be on the panel.
Ron MacKinley, the fisheries minister for Prince Edward Island, said it's premature to say what solutions the panel may recommend.
"We've got to wait for the panel to come back with their suggestions," MacKinley said.
"If we knew exactly what to do, we wouldn't be standing here today. ... We'd be bringing in legislation."
The ministers said they will also talk to other jurisdictions in the region, including Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and Maine.