Fisheries minister criticized over low lobster prices

The P.E.I. Fishermen's Association is watching lobster prices fall as the season on the Island opens.

Conservatives say $50K wasted promoting sales in China, Japan, Alberta

As the lobster season opens on P.E.I. prices are not what fishermen hoped they would be. (AP)

The Progressive Conservatives accused P.E.I.’s fisheries minister of wasting taxpayer money and failing to improve lobster prices during an intense session of the legislature Tuesday.

"Why have you failed to improve lobster prices in P.E.I.?" asked Colin LaVie.

The MLA for Souris-Elmira is also a lobster fisherman and spent the morning on his boat hauling traps.

"Minister, this is a serious issue. This is not about me. This is about our fishers on Prince Edward Island trying to feed their families and at your low prices they won’t," he said.

Ron MacKinley, the fisheries minister, spent $50,000 from the public purse to promote lobster sales in China, Japan and Alberta last year.

He said it was money well spent. "If you don’t promote lobsters, you will have low prices on the wharf," he answered.

MacKinley said fishermen could consider uniting to set their own prices. "It’s probably the only industry I know of that you go to fish and a week later you find out what you’re going to get paid," he said.

The price for lobster will be known next week.

Prices falling

Meanwhile, the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association is watching predicted lobster prices fall as the season on the Island opens.

Two weeks ago, the organization predicted fishermen would get $7 a pound for market-sized lobsters when they land their traps Tuesday, but reports from Nova Scotia are that prices there have already dropped to $5.50 a pound.

PEIFA's manager Ian MacPherson hasn't heard anything definitive on prices, but says the industry goes through this same dance each year.

"That's part of the mystery of the lobster industry. We haven't landed one lobster yet and yet prices are dropping. We've been hearing for quite some time, almost two months, that demand has been very strong out of Nova Scotia. There's very little inventory," said MacPherson.

"It's unfortunate not knowing what the minimum price is going to be and it just seems to go from one extreme to the other." MacPherson expects it will be at least a week to know what the starting price will be.

Prices at the end of June 2012 were running about $5 a pound, but they fell below $3 in the fall.