Lobster price talks breakdown, tensions remain high

Tensions remain high between fishermen and processors across the Maritimes after talks between processors and fishermen broke down Sunday.

Maritime fishermen say rising fuel, bait costs make harvesting unprofitable

Boats tied up on Caribou Wharf in Pictou County on Thursday. (CBC)

Tensions remain high between fishermen and processors around the Maritimes.

On P.E.I. there was hope that a meeting Sunday between the two sides in Charlottetown would result in a compromise, but the meeting ended in frustration for both sides.

Mike McGeoghegan, president of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association, said his organization could not reach an agreement with the P.E.I. Processors Association after meeting for two and a half hours.   

"There was a lot of tough exchange going back and forth from both processors and fishermen and actually there was no result to come of it. We’re still out in the same place we are right now, it’s gridlocked. It’s a sad day for Mother’s Day, I was hoping I could step out of the room and tell the fishermen that the price had gone up and that we’re ready to go fishing," he said.

PEIFA maintains its members can't survive on the current prices, and the processors association said they can't make any money if they pay more.

Both sides said they are hoping the government will step in and somehow end the stalemate and fix, what they say, is a broken pricing system in the industry.

More than 1,000 Island fishermen have had their boats tied up since last week, saying they will not fish until they are paid about $5 per pound for market-sized lobster.

Wholesale prices are currently about $3.25 per pound on P.E.I.

Current wholesale lobster prices

 Prince Edward IslandNew BrunswickNova Scotia
Price for canners$2.75 - $3.75$3$3.75
Price for market lobster$3.25 - $3.50$3.50$4

McGeoghegan said he had been hopeful that there would be some movement from the processors.

"We thought for sure that they would meet us part way and we would be back fishing," said McGeoghegan. "Nobody dreamt in their wildest imagination that we would still tied to the wharf right now. Fishermen can't fish for those prices."

P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association president Jeff Malloy said they can't afford to pay the prices sought by the fishermen.

Malloy said a recent oversupply of the crustaceans means the market can only offer a certain price.

He said seafood processing plants have been feeling the pressure, with a number of people out of work for the last several days.

"It's a very limited time that they have as well to make enough money to feed their children," said Malloy. "None of us are happy with the situation. We're all in the same boat here."

McGeoghegan said provincial Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley and representatives of Premier Robert Ghiz's office were also on hand for the meeting.

He said fishermen were deciding on Sunday whether they would head out on the water Monday morning. Many fishermen told CBC News that their boats will remain tied up until processors start paying them more.

Lobster talks heat up in Antigonish, N.S.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia fishermen along the Northumberland Shore and around Cape Breton decided on Sunday that they would keep their boats tied up on Monday.

About 500 people attended an at-times heated meeting in Antigonish, with some fishermen "itchy" to get out on the water and others vying to stand firm and not fish, said Ronnie Heighton, president of the Northumberland Fisherman's Association.

"It was a good show of hands that we all stay at least one more day," said Heighton.

A meeting with fishermen, processors and Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Sterling Belliveau was also arranged for Monday. After that, the fishermen will meet again to discuss their next move.

The protest had also spilled over into New Brunswick last week, where lobster fishermen tied up and also said it's not worth their while to steam out of port for a product that won't cover the cost of fuel, bait and labour.

McGeoghegan said he's not surprised by the sudden shift toward solidarity amongst the Maritime lobster fishermen.

He said the industry must bring in a third party to review the pricing system and make recommendations for changes.

With files from The Canadian Press