ANTIGONISH – The lobster fishing season in the region is back on.
Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister addresses questions from fishermen in the crowd at a meeting in Antigonish regarding the low lobster prices
At a meeting Monday night, Gulf Nova Scotia fishing captains voted 196-52 in favour of going back out to fish, despite still facing what they have been protesting as unfair prices, leaving boats tied up since late last week.
Northumberland Fishermen's Association president Ronnie Heighton said the action taken by the fishermen was a first and he thanked them for their patience and perseverance.
"We quit as one and we started back up as one."
He said what changed between Sunday's meeting where Gulf Nova Scotia fishermen voted to continue the protest and Monday evening was the fact that fishermen elsewhere had started to fish and "We knew that it was just a matter of time before we would be fragmented where one would go and the other wouldn't and there would be bad feelings," he said. "I think the fishermen really realized we made our statement, we had the minister (of fisheries and aquaculture) here tonight and he's made some commitments and we're going forward with that."
Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Sterling Belliveau spoke to the crowd of about 500 fishermen and women, families of fishermen and politicians in Antigonish that the provincial government has heard their demands for higher lobster prices and is working on a solution prior to their closed-door vote.
Belliveau was contacted at the fishermen's last meeting in Antigonish on Sunday and was asked to address the issue of low lobster prices. He said he met earlier in the day with their union and association representatives along with the deputy minister and other provincial officials.
Belliveau said Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture has already been in contact with the fisheries departments in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island and a meeting will take place later this week between the three departments to discuss how to address the issue of low lobster prices.
"We have been in contact with my counterparts in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island and they understand the severity of this situation," he said. "We are suggesting to our neighbouring provinces that we conduct a panel and this panel has not been materialized yet, but we visualize it as someone who understands the industry and can come forward with recommendations."
Belliveau said the province is also planning to address the issue of low lobster prices by committing to better marketing Nova Scotia's lobsters through a new promotional campaign in Nova Scotia, Canada and global markets.
"Our provincial approach on that is we have a great product, we want to get that out to the world," he said.
Belliveau took questions from the crowd such as how the price of lobster is set, why fishermen can't catch their own bait and the why the U.S. fishery hasn't been included in the discussions. Belliveau said he understands lower lobster landings this year is one of the contributing factors to low lobster prices and those questions are what the panel will look at once it's formed.
“To understand (pricing) and to understand all of the structures of this industry is something this panel will address and I think the options we put forward is the first step in addressing this,” he said.
Belliveau said who will sit on the panel will be determined at the meeting between the three fisheries departments later this week.
The boats along the Northumberland Strait had been tied up since Thursday along with boats throughout other parts of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in protest of low lobster prices.
Lobster prices vary throughout the Maritimes, but local fishermen were receiving $3.75 for canners and $4 for market-sized lobsters before the protest began.
Those in the crowd Monday evening applauded the minister for attending the meetings and speaking to them about the issue.