Eyes on lobstermen as Canadian season begins
PORTLAND, Maine—Lobstermen and fishery officials in Maine are hoping that cool heads prevail as the fishing season begins in Canada for lobstermen who blocked truckloads of Maine-caught lobster from New Brunswick processing plants before settling their dispute over the weekend.
Fishermen who pull traps off southeastern New Brunswick are scheduled to start their two-month season Monday. Blaming the flood of Maine lobster for driving down prices, many of those same fishermen staged protests this month outside several New Brunswick processors, which forced plant shutdowns.
Processing operations resumed Friday a day after a judge issued an order restricting the protests, and Maine lobster dealers have resumed shipments to Canada. Over the weekend, the union representing lobstermen, the provincial government and fish processing plants agreed to a deal that calls for processors to pay an additional 25 Canadian cents per lobster, to be matched by the union, according to a union official.
Maine Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher doesn't expect trouble when fishing season gets under way Monday morning.
"Those fishermen up there are just like the fishermen down here -- when it's time to fish, they'll go fishing," he said.
Lobster dealers and fishermen in Maine are relieved now that processors in Canada are again taking their lobster, which is processed into a variety of frozen and meat products. It's estimated that 50 percent or more of Maine's annual harvest, which topped 100 million pounds last year, is shipped to Canada.
Clive Farrin, a lobsterman from Boothbay Harbor and president of the Down East Lobstermen's Association, said he hopes Canadian fishermen realize that Maine fishermen aren't getting any more for their catch than they are. The deal the New Brunswick fishermen agreed to will bring the price up to about $3 per pound for processed lobster and about $3.50 per pound for live market lobster. Most Maine fishermen have been getting $2 to $2.50 a pound.
"If those fishermen don't want our lobsters up there, what's to prevent us to stop their lobsters from coming this way?" he said. Lobstermen in Canada and Maine supply many of the same markets outside of their local areas.
Even with Canadian processors coming back on line, there's still an oversupply of lobsters in Maine, Keliher said. Some lobster dealers, especially in eastern Maine where the harvest has been especially strong, have told lobstermen to take it easy.
"There were areas where they asked them to slow down and other areas where they asked them to stop for a day or two, just to see what happens with processing," he said.