Lobster fishermen tie up boats in protest after meeting processors about low prices

Maritime fishermen are protesting low prices on lobster.

Fishermen have been getting paid, but not as much as they expected, says Maritime Fishermen's Union

Processors say they're offering $4.75 a pound per market lobster and $4.25 a pound per can of lobster, though those prices are not set in stone yet.

Fifty lobster fishermen in New Brunswick tied up their boats and stayed on land to protest what they call unreasonably low prices on their catch outside a processing plant in Saint Anne de Kent Thursday.

Lobster fishermen, processors and union members met Wednesday to discuss the "unsatisfactory" low prices some have been paid for their catches this season.

'It's very troubling': N.B. lobster fishermen discouraged by lower wages, union says

Michel Richard, organizer of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, said conversations prior to last Tuesday, when the current prices were revealed, suggested prices could be close to $5 or $5.50 per pound.

But instead they're sitting at an unfixed $4.75 a pound per market lobster and $4.25 a pound for canners.

"They had some explanations from one member of the processing sector citing market situations and trying to tell them that there may be adjustments on the horizon," said Richard, who did not attend or condone Thursday's protest, though he was sympathetic to the fishermen's frustrations.

Lobster fishermen bring in their first catches of the season last year. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Among the protestors  in Saint Anne de Kent on Thursday was Maurice Martin, a lobster fisherman from Cap St. Louis.

"We want to be paid a fair price," Martin said. "There's no reason we're not [to be] paid a fair price. And the fair price is better than 4.75 and 4.25. We know it because three weeks before the fishing season starts, there's 140,000 pieces of lobster that went directly to China. In 24 hours. They were paid top money for it."

Fishermen in New Brunswick have protested before. In 2012, hundreds of fishermen set up blockades at three processing plants in the southeastern part of the province in response to those plants processing U.S. lobster, which was going for about $2 a pound.

Now, the union is trying to resolve the pricing issue before frustration leads to a similar action.

"We would like to state that we completely agree with the fishermen that any price lower than $5 and $5.50, for this year in particular, is unacceptable," Richard said.

Questions for processors

Richard also said the processing sector did not formally meet with the Maritime Fishermen's Union when they came up with prices but said the opportunity is still there if nothing improves.

Fishermen have been getting paid, but none have received official pay stubs, so Richard said there is no proof of what the current prices really are.

Last year, he said, it was two weeks into the season before fishermen were told what the prices were. Why it takes so long is something Richard said the processing sector will need to explain as well.

"The fishermen were very patient [Wednesday] night and they said that this situation must be corrected because they don't believe that they can contain the frustration of the rest of the fishermen."

The Lobster Processors Association Of New Brunswick & Nova Scotia says they're working with all parts of the industry right now while they go through this "fragile time in the markets," but declined further comment, so as not to harm the negotiations.

With files from Jonna Brewer and Gabrielle Fahmy