New Brunswick

Lobster season starts after protests

Lobster season is starting today on the Northumberland Strait following a series of protests by fishermen over low prices.

New Brunswick government cannot subsidize lobster prices, David Alward says

Lobster season is starting today on the Northumberland Strait after almost two weeks of protests by eastern New Brunswick fishermen over low prices.

Many fishermen left the wharf at Cap-de-Saint-Louis well before sunrise on Monday morning. The mood among the fishermen was upbeat as many said they were glad to be back fishing instead of protesting.

However, Maurice Martin, a lobster fisherman, said the opening was bittersweet because they were unable to negotiate the $4 per pound price for their lobster that they had sought to achieve.

He said on Monday the negotiations will not be put aside until after the season.

Premier David Alward says he is relieved the lobster season is starting, following the protests over low prices.

But Alward said the provincial government does not have a role to play in resolving any last-minute snags.

For a week, fishermen had been protesting outside processing plants in eastern New Brunswick after learning the plants were processing cheap American lobster. Processors won a court-ordered injunction to keep the protesting fishermen off their property last Thursday.

A deal was struck late last week that would see the fishermen eligible for an extra 50 cents per pound. The processing plants and the Maritime Fishermen's Union would each pay 25 cents.

The deal means processors will pay $3 a pound for canners and $3.50 for market lobster.

Aboriginal fishermen are not eligible for a 25-cent per-pound top-up on prices, which is being paid by the Maritime Fishermen's Union because they are not members of the organization.

However, non-native fishermen have decided to forego the 25 cents in solidarity with their counter-parts. But the two sides say they want the provincial government to help find a solution.

Alward said trade rules prevent the provincial government from putting any money on the table for the fishermen.

"We certainly did a lot to facilitate and bring the groups together. That's what needed to happen. I know the various groups have agreed to go back to fishing. That's the important first step that needs to be going on," Alward said.

"But we're not in a position to subsidize the price of lobster."

Sense of co-operation

One First Nations councillor says band governments will have to see if they have the funds to pay for the top-up themselves.

The new commitment to co-operation between the native and non-native fishing groups stands in contrast to the tensions that arose following controversial legal decisions more than a decade ago.

In 2000, the two groups were at odds after the courts gave natives commercial fishing rights.

Acadian fishermen Blaine Daigle said those tensions are long gone.

"We've been fishing with them now like in the past 10 years and people have been getting along and we're all friends now," Daigle said.

Everett Sanipass, a band councillor on the Elsipogtog First Nation, said he welcomes the new sense of unity between the fishermen.

"It's night and day, you know. I'm very pleased we were able to sit and discuss on everybody's livelihood here," he said.

That sense of co-operation could also lead to a new fishermen's association, which would include both native and non-native members.