Help for lobster fishermen must be led by industry: MacKinley

Teresa Wright
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Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley believes higher lobster prices and a marketing levy would help P.E.I.’s struggling lobster industry – but these measures are controlled by industry, not government.

Carl Gallant of North Rustico on the wharf getting ready for the 2014 season. FILE PHOTO

In an interview with The Guardian Wednesday, MacKinley said he understands that fishermen are upset with the low prices they are being paid for their catches, but many of the measures that must be taken to help the industry must be led by fishermen, processors and buyers.

“We don’t buy lobsters, we don’t sell lobsters. We can’t tell processors what they have to pay for lobsters,” MacKinley said.

“It’s supply and demand.”

The P.E.I. government has spent the last year studying and debating the issue of lobster prices. Two consultants reports were commissioned – one in P.E.I. and one for the Maritimes – both of which recommended a one-cent per pound levy for marketing, but suggested it should be a Maritime-wide initiative led by the Lobster Council of Canada.

MacKinley says fishermen in all three provinces have to vote in favour of this before it can go ahead.

As for legislating a shore price, that simply can’t be done, MacKinley said.

“I can’t dictate to processors, ‘You’ve got to pay this or that.’ That’s what you call running the business, and fishing is a business.”

He continues to point to the Natural Products Marketing Act which could allow fishers to adopt their own levy and give them greater control over marketing and distribution of their catches.

Nonetheless some fishermen on the wharves have been highly critical of MacKinley’s leadership on this file, suggesting he is not doing enough.

NDP Leader Mike Redmond questioned the need for a minister of fisheries if he seemingly cannot do anything to help the industry.

MacKinley defended his record, pointing to countless meetings he has attended with his counterparts in the Maritimes, Ottawa and Maine. He also listed initiatives such as the low-interest loan program for fishers and his constant search for new markets and customers, especially at trade shows.

He also pointed to the facilitator he hired to get fishermen and processors to try to come to an agreement on a shore price well before the season began.

But those meetings ended with both sides leaving the table, agreeing to disagree.

MacKinley still views them as a success.

“They came a long ways in building trust. Before, you couldn’t even get them sitting at a table (together).”

He said fishers in Nova Scotia are getting a higher price than P.E.I. fishermen this year because they sell mainly to the live market, not to processors as a majority of Island fishermen do.

And again, that’s a decision of the fishermen – not government, MacKinley said.

“There’s nothing stopping those fishermen if they want to get to live market… you’ll have to talk to processors why they’re not getting more money.”

Organizations: Lobster Council of Canada, Natural Products

Geographic location: P.E.I., Maritime, Ottawa Maine Nova Scotia Iceland

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