Lobster price meeting ends in stalemate
800 fishermen protested at DFO offices Thursday
A meeting about lobster prices between P.E.I. fishermen and the seafood processors association ended in a stalemate Thursday afternoon, just a few hours after about 800 people gathered at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans office in Charlottetown demanding a higher price.
The fishery opened early last week on P.E.I.
On Wednesday, most fishermen tied up their boats as word spread that buyers were paying about $3 a pound for the lobster caught in the first week of the season. Fishermen say they need $5 a pound to break even.
Boats were off the water again Thursday, with some fishermen in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia also remaining tied up.
Although fishermen were well represented at the meeting, only two processors attended — Acadian Fishermen's Co-op and the North Shore Fish Plant.
"We're just trying to have a decent conversation and find out where the problem lies," said Norman Peters, who is on the board of directors of the fishermen's association.
"There is a major problem in the industry right now," said Peters.
Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley, who was also in attendence, said processors need to get together again.
"We've got to get them back in and see if we can work something out. The fishers can't work for the money they're getting. So, it's sort of a loggerhead right now," said MacKinley.
Meanwhile, Jeff Malloy, president of the processors association, said his group's members are having a difficult time.
"Certainly there was plenty of discussion and at the end of the day, we have to continue those discussions to either talk our way through this or, as someone said, we're in a mess of trouble here in P.E.I.," said Malloy.
"Right now, we set the price at what we feel will pay. If that changes, certainly there will be adjustments, same as there is every year."
The PEIFA has scheduled a conference call for Thursday evening to discuss next steps.
Earlier Thursday, hundreds of fishermen, their families and others protested outside the DFO offices in Charlottetown.
P.E.I. Fisheries Association president Mike McGeoghegan held up a picture of a much smaller protest about lobster prices he attended in 1990. He noted the price they protested then was about $3 a pound, at a time when diesel fuel cost 30 cents a litre.
That's going to change now, he said, because fishermen are united now.
"Here we are making a stand," said McGeoghegan.
"We are going to win this fight. I guarantee it."
MacKinley told fishermen the situation was "very serious."
"Fishers aren't making any money. So, why would you go out to fish if you're only losing money before you go out. It's ridiculous, a price of $3.50, $2.75 for lobster and I don't think anybody would blame anybody for tying up their boats," said MacKinley.
"If lobster prices go up 25 cents a pound, that's worth $5 million to the fishers and $10 million spinoff to the province, so we're all in this together."
Many speakers stressed the need to stand united and keep boats off the water until the price for lobster improved.
Meanwhile, lawyers for the Beach Point Processing plant in eastern P.E.I. obtained an order from the Supreme Court Thursday afternoon to stop fishermen from blocking access to the plant.
The court order is in effect immediately and stands until May 17.