Heighton to join federal lobster council

Sherry Martell
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RIVER JOHN - The head of a local fishermen's association will sit on the newly created Lobster Council of Canada.

Ronnie Heighton, Cape John fisherman and president of the Northumberland Fisherman's Association, said he felt it was important to join the council to work collaboratively other stakeholders to revive the struggling industry.

"Lobster is the main fishery for all of our members," he said. " It's very important. It's the backbone of our coastal communities and I thought it would be important to be there to get the inside track and see what is happening."

The council includes representatives from fishermen's groups, processors and lobster buyers in Eastern Canada.

The industry employs about 30,000 people in Atlantic Canada and is worth more than $1 billion in exports. In Nova Scotia, it generates substantial economic activity and is worth $400 million each year in exports.

Heighton said there have been many attempts in the past to bring the distinct groups together but this is the first time it has worked.

"I think the crisis has really brought us together," said the association head.

Record low catches in some lobster fishing areas combined with rock bottom prices from buyers, high fuel and bait expenses created an unbearable situation for some fishermen who landed their gear before the season closed to seek other employment.

Heighton said when fishermen are paid $3.25 a pound for market-size lobsters and they are sold to customers at local grocery stores for $8.99 there is a disconnect that needs to be addressed.

"Somebody's taking a big bite out of the middle," he said. Heighton is looking forward to working with the council on issues such as pricing and marketing their high-quality product.

"I'm hoping it will get into the promotion of lobster and lobster products worldwide to increase demand and hopefully the price with it."

The council would be responsible for several aspects of the lobster industry including the development of an international market for Atlantic Canadian lobster and to improve industry prices.

The newly formed group will meet for the first time between mid-November and mid-December to hire an executive director and then begin working in co-operation while building trust.

Heighton anticipates it will take about a year before he will be able to accurately gauge whether the council is a benefit to his fishermen or not.

"It's too early to tell if it's going to work," said the seasoned fisherman. "It's just wait and see right now to know if the result of their work is going to help."

The council will set up an office in Halifax with $370,000 initially committed over the next two years to establish it, coming from the four Atlantic Provinces, the government of Quebec, and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Future funding will come from fishermen, processors and buyers.

smartell@transcontinental.ca

Organizations: Lobster Council of Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Geographic location: RIVER JOHN, Northumberland Fisherman, Eastern Canada Atlantic Canada Nova Scotia Halifax Atlantic Provinces Quebec

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