New Brunswick

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

Lobster fishermen in southeastern New Brunswick are getting nearly $2 less per pound than what they expected, which the union suggests could prompt protests and compromise conservation efforts.

Union suggests protests could follow and conservation efforts could be compromised

Wages sit at no more than $4.75 per pound — nearly $2 less than what was expected.

The Maritime Fishermen's Union is voicing concerns about the low prices its members are getting paid for their catches in southeastern New Brunswick this season and suggesting protests could follow.

Wages currently sit at $4.75 a pound per market lobster and $4.25 a pound per can of lobster — nearly $2 less than what was expected, according to MFU organizer Michel Richard.

There is "no excuse for such a low price," Richard told CBC's Information Morning Moncton on Monday, as lobster season entered its second week.

"It's very troubling, and our fishermen are trying to reason why this is happening, and the excuses are not realistic," he said.

Prior to the season starting on Aug. 9, buyers and processors gave fishermen and union members only a vague forecast as to what the exact price would be, but remained positive, said Richard.

But when the bell rang, revealing prices on Aug. 8, it wasn't what they hoped for.

"They certainly haven't justified the price," Richard said.

Local lobster fishermen also found themselves in a battle for better wages in 2012. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

While Richard didn't indicate what the ideal price would be, he said fishermen have told him upwards of $7 a pound is "unrealistic," and somewhere between $5 and $5.25 a pound is satisfactory.

What they're being paid now is almost $2 less than what they received during the spring season, he told CBC.

Richard is urging fishermen to voice their concerns to buyers and processors.

If the situation has not improved by mid-week, he said, meetings will be set up in hopes of avoiding another crisis like the one five years ago, when fishermen had to fight for better wages.

In 2012, a deal between the union and the provincial government offered only $2.50 a pound for canners and $3 a pound for market lobsters. Since then, Richard said, it's been difficult to get fishermen to be excited about the outcome of a season.

Until Tuesday, this year was the first time he'd heard much optimism, he said.

The current season saw its first traps lift on Wednesday, a day after fishermen found out what prices their catches would fetch. (CBC)
Fishermen are also being impacted by new conservation measures in New Brunswick, Richard pointed out.

But those conservation efforts could be compromised by the low wages, he said..

"Even if landings are very good … the viability threshold concept, or idea of that, is you have to take into consideration all the expenses," he said.

"If the fishermen get a lower price, they fish harder. If they fish harder, it kind of is a counterpoint to all the efforts they're doing [to conserve]."

Richard said he doesn't want to see the fishermen work for less than they've earned.

"It's hard for fishermen to conceive not doing their principal work, to hold out because somebody is not paying literally what they should at least pay for lobster."

The MFU represents 1,300 independent small boat owner-operator fishers from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

With files from Information Morning Moncton


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