Lobster fisherman wonder if Claws-a-nostra is grabbing hold of industry

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"There is a turf war going on,' agrees Hubert Saulnier, president of Local 9 of the Maritime Fisherman's Union. Saulnier says the loss of five boatloads of lobster means 200,000 pounds less of product for sale.

Lobster fisherman wonder if Claws-a-nostra is grabbing hold of industry

The scenic fishing town of Digby calls itself Nova Scotia's best-kept secret, but that's not quite true. The real secret in this attractive area along the Annapolis Basin is the all-out competition for lobster. And in July, that competition turned deadly with the poisoning of a lobster pound.

Some say Paulin Robichaud who lost $280,000 recently when someone sabotaged his lobster pound is just the latest example of what can happen in a rough turf war for crustacean cash.

According to area fishermen, competition among lobster buyers is so stiff that the difference of losing a couple of boatloads of the prized catch can sink them. And in that kind of market, some people will do anything to discourage others from horning in on their customers.

"It's like a dope dealer that has a corner on the street. Somebody tries to steal their corner and it makes a turf war,' Robichaud says.

"There is a turf war going on,' agrees Hubert Saulnier, president of Local 9 of the Maritime Fisherman's Union. Saulnier says the loss of five boatloads of lobster means 200,000 pounds less of product for sale.

"If you're used to selling to the same buyer for years and all of a sudden you move, it causes friction between the two buyers," Saulnier says.

Lobster is a lucrative industry in southwest Nova Scotia, worth approximately $250-million annually. While the money is large, the buyers - who number as many as 900 - compete on tight margins. Robichaud says it's been suggested to him that another buyer believed he was snapping up their lobster.

Whatever the reason, in the middle of the night in July, someone shoved a tube through the wall of Robichaud's lobster pound in Digby Country and filled the water with an as-of-yet unidentified poison, killing 35,000 pounds of crustaceans.

The RCMP, who have yet to make an arrest in the Robichaud case, are investigating whether it was a turf war. "For sure, that's something we're looking at,' says Sgt. Michel LaCroix, spokesman for the RCMP's Meteghan detachment.

Robichaud's poisoned lobster pound is the highest profile crime in the industry, but it's not the first. A couple of months earlier someone peppered Robichaud's brother's van and camper trailer with gun shots. And a couple of years ago, one fisherman arrived at his lobster pound to find buckshot holes through the building and main door.

Denny Morrow, executive director of the Nova Scotia Fish Packers' Association, says he's not aware of any cases of sabotage or violence over customers. "I'd be surprised,' he says. "Even the smallest buyers, the most aggressive ones, understand if you go down that road, there's a no-win policy."

Nor does Ian Marshall, the area director for southwest Nova Scotia for the federal department of oceans and fisheries, acknowledge a turf war. "I can't think of any tensions. There's nothing that would lead me to believe there's a problem here."

Saulnier, 53, says lobster landings are down, the prices have dropped and the good times are gone. When buyers are used to pocketing a certain amount of money annually and it dries up, some take desperate measures.

"Unfortunately, you have to try and tap into somebody else's backyard and, yes, things like that do happen,' Saulnier says, in reference to the violence over business dealings.

"That's the reason when you get close to my age,' he continued, "you figure this is not what it used to be and it's time to bail out."

That's what Robichaud has done. After seven years of running his own lobster pound, he's taking the insurance money and returning to fishing.

"They got the wrong guy," added Robichaud.

Organizations: RCMP, Local 9, Nova Scotia Fish Packers

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Digby Country

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