New Brunswick

Lobster fishermen's union working on deal with N.B.

The province and fish plant owners in southeastern New Brunswick have reached a deal about the sale of N.B. lobsters in the face of a glut of cheap American lobsters on the market.

Union head appeals for calm from fishermen

About 200 lobster fishermen blocked a processing plant in Shediac on Aug. 2 to protest cheap U.S. lobster. (CBC)

The province says it will offer compensation to lobster fisherman in the southeast because prices have bottomed out due to a glut of cheap American lobsters on the market.

Fisheries Minister Michael Olscamp met with the Maritime Fishermen's Union in Fredericton today and a processor to diffuse the situation and ensure the lobster season on the Northumberland Strait opens as scheduled next week.

The fishermen say they're still not satisfied with what came out of the meeting.

Now, the processors have agreed to pay a base price of $2.50 for canners and $3 for market lobsters.

The fishermen say they need at least $3.75 per pound to survive.

The province has also agreed to negotiate extra compensation for the fishermen, according to Christian Brun, the head of the union.

Olscamp says the compensation will not be a subsidy; it is allowed under trade rules. He says it's not a precedent for future glut-induced price drops because this was an emergency situation.

The details of that help are still being worked out, but it would allow the fishermen to make it through the season, Brun said.

However, fishermen told CBC News they want a guarantee that the compensation would bring the amount up to the minimum $3.75 they say they require.

The union, the processors and the minister are also pleading with protestors to put an end to their blockades.

They say those actions are hurting the negotiations.

"Give us time to work out a longer-term solution," Brun said.

On Thursday, fishermen blockaded three plants — two in Cap-Pelé and one in Shediac. The RCMP had to be called in to help.

The fishermen were upset that plant owners have brought in tractor-trailer loads of cheap and plentiful lobsters from Maine just before their season  opens. They say they cannot match the U.S. prices and worry the glut of cheap American lobster will mean no market for their catches.

U.S. lobster is currently selling for about $2 per pound — due in part to an earlier-than-usual harvest this year.

In Maine, there have been significant catches of shedder lobsters, which have a soft shell and generally don't command the prices that the hard-shell lobsters do.

The fish plant owners say they are also promising to buy all the lobster that's caught in southeast New Brunswick or Zone 25.

Shediac protest heated

About 200 fishermen blocked a load of lobster at Shediac Bay Processors on Thursday. They surrounded the owner and insisted he send his workers home.

"Shut it down. Shut it down," they shouted.

One fisherman grabbed a handful of U.S. lobster and threw it on the pavement.

"It's garbage. It's garbage," the fishermen said as about six RCMP officers and 10 members of the emergency tactical team looked on.

The Shediac plant did shut down, despite having just received 36 tonnes of lobster from Maine.

Police managed to escort the truck, driven by Leonard Garnett, out of the province.

"I sympathize with the guys because they're telling me the price of the lobster they're going to get, we're getting the same price back home," said Garnett. "Our boats over home are getting the same prices."

On Wednesday, dozens of fishermen stood outside a processing plant in Bedec, where they yelled at the plant owner and reportedly turned off the refrigeration units holding the lobster.

All sides have also set up a joint committee to monitor the season and they'll work on long-term changes to the fishery to try to minimize any future problems.