SUMMERSIDE - As P.E.I. lobster fishermen hauled in their traps for the first time in a week Tuesday afternoon, Prime Minister Stephen Harper shared his concern over the price tensions plaguing the industry across the Maritimes.
During his visit to Prince Edward Island Tuesday, Harper spoke briefly about what many are calling a crisis in the lobster industry, where fisherman are being offered prices for the luxury crustaceans they say do not even cover their costs.
“Obviously we are concerned about what we are seeing in the marketplace,” Harper told reporters Tuesday in P.E.I.
“We think it’s important for those who are in our fishery and in our lobster fishery particularly, those hardworking families, that when they work they’re able to earn a decent living from what they are doing.”
Most of P.E.I.’s lobster fishermen returned to their boats Tuesday after a week-long strike that paralyzed the industry.
But with no increase in prices, which have been set at between $2.75 and $3.25 a pound, tensions remain within the industry about its future viability.
Fisherman say they need at least $5 a pound to make ends meet, while seafood processors say the lower prices are due to the current glut of lobster on the market, when fisherman across the Maritimes and Maine are harvesting lobster.
Harper said Tuesday he hopes the two sides can come to some kind of agreement in order to preserve the industry in the region.
“We obviously encourage the fisherman and the processors to work to find a solution to some of the market difficulties in this particular area,” he said.
P.E.I.’s Interim Progressive Conservative party leader Steven Myers also raised the issue with Harper during a private meeting Tuesday.
He said he requested the meeting when he heard the prime minister would be in the province in the hopes of attracting some federal assistance to this issue.
Myers said Harper told him he is open to further discussion on the matter if the province takes the initiative to get both the processors and fisherman to agree to some kind of solution.
“I wanted to gauge the willingness of the federal government to come to the table if there was a solution that required their assistance to accomplish,” Myers said.
“It sounds like he’s quite willing to discuss it, but the sides here – the province and the fishing community – need to come up with what that plan would look like.”
The P.E.I. government has asked former auditor general Colin Younker to review the Island's lobster industry. It is hoped this review will identify solutions that could help P.E.I. fishermen get better prices for their products.
The Guardian requested an interview with federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield and was told he was not available, but he shares the sentiments expressed by the prime minister.