Nova Scotia

Unhappy with lobster prices, fishermen return to port

Hundreds of fishermen returned their boats to ports throughout southwest Nova Scotia on Monday to protest low lobster prices.

Hundreds of fishermen returned their boats to ports throughout southwest Nova Scotia on Monday to protest low lobster prices.

The spur-of-the-moment protest went ahead after the fishermen lamented to one another over their VHF radios about the low lobster prices, they said. Those who took part said they wouldn't haul traps until buyers offered more than $3.25 a pound.

"It's not even feasible for us to even think about trying to work with that kind of price," said Ashton Spinney, a longtime fisherman and representative for fishermen in Area 34.

"We just can't function at that [price]. There's just no way of paying your bills."

To break even, prices would need to be between $4 and $5 a pound, he said.

It was unclear how many fishermen joined the protest. But Spinney estimated about three-quarters of the 972 licence holders took part.

The last time fishermen stopped fishing to make a point about low lobster prices was 18 years ago after getting just $2 a pound for their catches.

Hubert Saulnier, with the Maritime Fishermen's Union in the area, doubts a strike will work now.

"Most of these boats came in but some stayed out, so you're gonna have a lot of confrontation among fishermen themselves, which is very, very unfortunate," he said.

Saulnier said many fishermen believe they should have taken action before the season began last Monday, and fished to order at an agreed upon price.

'There's less money around'

In an attempt to keep more lobster from heading to market, the fishermen who took part in the protest asked buyers not to transport lobster by truck out of the area until talks took place.

An effort was underway Monday afternoon to arrange meetings between fishermen's representatives and buyers.

Colin MacDonald, chief executive of Clearwater Seafood Limited Partnership, was sympathetic to the fishermen's plight, but said they have to look at the big picture.

"The reality is that there's less money around. The banks aren't lending money ... Certainly none of our customers anywhere in the world want to carry any inventory. They're working hand to mouth and they're just not prepared to pay the price."

MacDonald, whose company buys eight million pounds of lobster a year, said Clearwater has already bought enough to meet Christmas sales and predicted the demand over the winter months "will be virtually non-existent."

"Maybe it's a good idea that fishermen stay tied up and go back fishing in the spring," he said.

Fishermen had been bracing for bad news after hearing about prices in the northeastern United States where more than 70 per cent of Nova Scotia lobsters end up.

In Maine, the price paid to them dropped to $2.25 a pound in October, due to an oversupply of lobster and shrinking demand for luxury products.

With files from the Canadian Press