Lobster fishermen must demand change

Second Opinion by Paul MacNeill, publisher

The future vitality of the Maritime lobster industry is now in the hands of the fishermen themselves. Two recently released reports both reach the same primary conclusion: The only way for fishermen to break the cycle of low prices is to stop fighting each other and start cooperating for the collective good.

“Throughout the Panel’s discussions with industry, analyses of the many studies and reports available and our internal discussions and observations, we saw a distinct set of messages emerging. These messages portray an industry that has been struggling instead of cooperating, fishing for quantity instead of value, fighting over pennies and losing dollars and asking others to solve their problems,” states the Report of the Maritime Lobster Industry.

One report examined the lobster industry in the Maritimes, while the second focused on Prince Edward Island. Both paint a picture of dysfunction. Fishermen fish without knowing the price, or how it is established. The industry floods the market, rather than working to control the flow throughout the year, or expand markets. There is a necessity to collectively market Maritime lobster through establishment of a levy on each pound of lobster harvested. Fishermen complain of low prices without factoring such variables as a doubling of the Maritime catch in the past decade while the Canadian dollar has soared in value – a one-two combination that effectively drives the price paid to fishermen downward.

None of the observations should come as a surprise.

Record low prices this year were not unreasonable concludes the PEI report: “Although the price may not be considered reasonable by some in the industry, based on the above factors, and on no other evidence provided to the contrary, the 2013 price was realistic.”

Both reports describe an industry at a crossroads. Fishermen either can accept the status quo and continue fishing for a pittance, or fishermen, processors, buyers and government begin to work together to re-establish Maritime lobster as a premium product.

To call fishermen independent is an understatement. It is a by-product of embracing a way of life that is among the most dangerous in our society. We saw the downside of this independence during wharf tie-up this spring, a failed attempt to drive the shore price higher. Within days, fractures were exposed in the fishing community. Self-interest was put ahead of winning benefit for the greater long-term good. The PEI Fishermen’s Association was shown to be ineffective, its leadership more concerned with spouting irrelevant rhetoric than taking the necessary steps to lead.

Nothing has changed. Fishermen are still independent; the PEIFA is still ineffective and in dire need of a generational change in leadership.

For substantive change to occur ordinary fishermen must take the lead. The time of relying on the fishermen’s association or provincial government is long past. Individual fishermen need to step up and demand action on recommendations contained within the report. Creation of a marketing levy is a no-brainer. If fishermen won’t promote Maritime lobster why should taxpayers do it for them? Finding ways to better control the flow of product into the marketplace is a no-brainer? In the spring, there are 8,000 fishermen on the water, which guarantees a glut in the marketplace. Creating a transparent process for establishing the shore price before any boat leaves the harbour is a no-brainer. No one has ever offered a rationale explanation why fishermen must wait upwards of a week to know what their lobster is worth.

The lobster industry faces significant hurdles before it stabilizes, the biggest being trust. Leadership demands change. Some fishermen, perhaps even a majority, will object and loudly complain. Idle chat in coffee shops rarely solves anything. For those who choose to sit on the sidelines and throw barbs at mythical opponents, there is a simple question they must answer: What would they do differently to turn around the lobster industry?

Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at paul@peicanada.com


Anonymous on Sun, 12/01/2013 - 13:44

I find it comical that people are now referring to EI as Fishermans Welfare. But my question is: do people who actually get welfare have to pay back 75% of it back in income tax like fishermen do with EI?

Anonymous on Mon, 11/25/2013 - 16:12
Title: Buy into it

Why don't you go buy into it then if you think it is so good? Too many people here who think they know the whole Island fishery but do not understand it. Guess you're too busy sitting in your fancy offices to do real work. Ignorance is quite rampant on this Island but I wouldn't expect nothing else with anonymous folks!

Anonymous on Sat, 11/23/2013 - 23:27

Island lobster fishermen are not independent at all they are actually dependent on the EI slash fishermens welfare system that they have been allowed to abuse for decades and the truth about their special EI rules has been kept secret from Canadians for too long .
A blind eye is turned to the rampant cash sales of catch like scallops that are actually fished while the fishermen are drawing their Two EI claims because their is no dockside monitoring of landed catch.
The fishermens huge sense of self entitlement is what has damaged their industry because they will land all the lobster that they possibly can in order to achieve enough EI stamps to drive around on our EI system all summer fall and winter. The lobster will be landed no matter what so a strike of any kind is totally ineffective .
Many lobstermen only fish 48 days and only contribute $840 in EI premiems to recieve $17,000 in their hand from EI. Many fishing households have two EI claims so $34,000 is not bad income for 48 days work per year .

Anonymous on Wed, 11/20/2013 - 16:28
Title: C'mon Paul


Where do you get off spouting about everything like you have a clue. You rant about politics like you know everything. You rant about lobster fishing like you know everything. You know nothing. You were handed a paper thanks to your father and did quite well with government monies. Don't deny it!

In regards to the fishery, your best bet would be to perhaps look at Souwest Nova where they fish more traps, a long season and do not have to return to port in the evening. This is not right. It is time that area cuts down to two months with a trap reduction and a requirement to return to port each day. Maine is another culprit. They fish a year round fishery. They should be cut down to two months as well.

As for politics, I am sorry. You are no political junkie as you only get your advice from the silver spoon club of Ch'Town!

Anonymous on Thu, 11/21/2013 - 10:50

Does Maine fishermen get to collect your Fishermen's Welfare{i.e. Employment Insurance) for sitting on their ass for most of the year? No, we don't. We have to make a living so don't go shooting your mouth off about how Maine fishermen are culprits. Why don't you P.E.I. fishermen fish your traps and shut your trap and see how well you do. And P.E.I. wonders why tourism is down. If all Islanders have the same attitude as Island fishermen who would want to go there.

Anonymous on Sat, 11/23/2013 - 23:38

Glad to see that a Maine fishermen has seen through the cloud of whining BS that comes from Island lobster fishermen . Can you imagine the gall to claim that the lobster season of another country should be cut back . While these lobstermen sit back on the government dole and manipulate their expenses to come in under the income tax clawback number by selling lobsters and scallops for cash to reduce their income all while drawing EI to the max .

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