New Brunswick

N.B. urged not to subsidize lobster industry

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is urging the New Brunswick government not to subsidize the lobster industry, despite ongoing protests by fishermen.

Taxpayers federation says it would set bad precedent

Kevin Lacey, of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says bailing out lobster fishermen would set a bad precedent. (CBC)

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is urging the New Brunswick government not to subsidize the lobster industry, despite ongoing protests by fishermen.

On Friday, Fisheries Minister Michael Olscamp had promised to provide compensation after days of protests outside processing plants over a glut of cheap American lobster.

But the minister has since closed the door on financial compensation after the Maritime Fisheries Union rejected an undisclosed offer by the provincial government on Tuesday.

Kevin Lacey, Atlantic director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says there's no reason the government should bail out fishermen in the province.

"I think there's a point to be made here about American lobster coming to New Brunswick plants. I think that's a fair issue for the fishermen to protest," Lacey said.

"I think where our organization sits is that we don't want to see the government subsidize the industry," he said.

"The province has undergone a very difficult last two years. Taxpayers in the province have suffered under a high inflation and low wage growth. And many businesses have suffered in this economy.

"And it sets a bad precedent that now, the province is looking to bail out lobster fishermen when so many others are suffering."

Protests continue, season delayed

Lobster fishermen continued to protest processing plants in northern New Brunswick on Tuesday. (Guy LeBlanc/Radio-Canada)

The fishermen say they won’t hit the water until they get a better price for their landings and took their protest to federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield's office in Fredericton on Wednesday.

Union president Christian Brun told CBC News he was extremely disappointed after two hours of talks with Olscamp on Tuesday.

"We're at the mercy of the American markets and our premier is accepting that," Brun said.

"We would implore the premier to explain what his position is."

A glut of cheap lobster from Maine has flooded the market, driving the price down to about $2 per pound, a 30-year low.

Processors say they could pay fishermen $2.50 per pound for canners and $3 for market lobster, but the fishermen say they need at least $4 to survive.

Olscamp said he's disappointed the offer was refused.

"I thought maybe that offer would provide the opportunity to open more doors. And as a result of it being refused, I'm disappointed to say the least, yes."

Olscamp said he sees his responsibility as making sure New Brunswick lobster is processed and marketed well around the world.

It could set a dangerous precedent for other fisheries to offer a "top-out" to bring the fishermen up to $4 a pound, he said.

Olscamp said he hopes the situation doesn't escalate and that protestors will think twice before stopping people from going to work in processing plants, preventing the plants from opening, or causing any property damage.

If there are any problems, he hopes authorities will take the necessary action, he added.

Still, the minister hopes a new committee can work on longstanding issues affecting the industry. The committee could begin as early as next week, he said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has agreed to delay the season on the Northumberland Strait, scheduled to start Thursday, until Monday.

Dispute ongoing

On Tuesday, nearly 200 fishermen set up a blockade at a processing plant in Neguac, on the Acadian Peninsula.

They say while southeastern processing plants have stopped processing cheap American lobster, northern processors now are.

Last week, fishermen set up blockades and closed several fish processing plants in the southeast, in some cases tractor trailer loads of Maine lobster couldn't unload and had to turn around.

A P.E.I. lobster plant reached a deal with local fishermen who launched a blockade Tuesday morning over a dispute about processing lobster from Maine.

Island fishermen have agreed that the South Shore Seafood plant can complete the processing of lobster currently in the plant, and the owners have agreed not to bring in any more for now.