Nova Scotia lobster levy prompts confusion, government clarification

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HALIFAX — Complaints from fisheries groups that they weren’t consulted about a lobster marketing levy left Nova Scotia’s fisheries minister scrambling Monday to clarify remarks he made about the proposal last week.

Lobster

Organizations representing fishermen and processors expressed surprise over news the government was preparing legislation to be introduced in the fall that would allow it to collect a five-cent levy per pound of lobster — three cents more than recommended in a report released last November.

A three-member panel that reviewed the lobster industry proposed a two-cent levy to boost marketing efforts, with one cent coming from fishermen and the other from buyers and processors. It was estimated about $2.5 million a year could be collected through the fee to help an industry hit by slumping prices in recent years.

Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell said last Thursday following a cabinet meeting that the government will bring about a five-cent levy, with the extra three cents going toward quality assurance. He didn’t elaborate.

On Monday, Colwell said the five-cent levy would be part of a pilot project to be conducted in a region not yet identified.

He said the purpose of the levy would be to improve quality of the crustacean by adopting standards “from the boat to the plate.”

“A lot of complaints come in about lobsters being shipped that are dead,” Colwell said in an interview. “That’s just because we don’t have the proper equipment or process in place.”

He said the pilot project will be announced once a memorandum of understanding is signed and he expects it will take a year to complete.

As for the legislation planned for the fall, Colwell said it would simply establish the framework needed to collect the levy and not specify how much it is.

“It’s just the ability to do it and then we’ll hold consultations with the industry in different areas of the province,” he said.

Colwell’s comments came after a couple of fishing groups said they were taken aback by the government’s plan to implement the levy because they weren’t consulted about it.

Ashton Spinney of the L-34 Management Board in southwestern Nova Scotia, the province’s largest lobster fishery, said he isn’t sure what Colwell means when he speaks of quality assurance.

“That’s got such a wide range on it I wouldn’t even dare to guess,” Spinney said.

He said in order to secure widespread acceptance of the government’s levy proposal, fishermen will need to understand what the money is for and how it will be collected.

Bernie MacDonald, manager of the Ceilidh Fishermen Co-op in Cape Breton, which represents about 100 fishermen, said he is in favour of the two-cent levy. But he said that’s not the case across the province.

“There’s opposition now at two (cents) especially in southwest Nova and we’ve got to have them on board or it may not go through,” said MacDonald.

Marilyn Clark, executive director of the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association, said there’s also opposition from some companies who aren’t in favour of any proposal that would see them collect the fees.

“Companies don’t want to come off as the tax man and collect for government. It’s not really their role to collect from individual fishermen.”

But Colwell expressed confidence the pilot project would go a long way in winning over skeptics.

“I think they will be coming to us asking to be involved in the project,” said Colwell. “That’s what we are hoping will happen and then we can move forward on that basis.”

Organizations: Management Board, Ceilidh Fishermen Co-op, Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Cape Breton

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  • Ralph Hayden
    July 29, 2014 - 09:34

    In the 70’s the department of fisheries and oceans started a proactive measure in the fishing industry. They started the freezing of licenses in most sectors of the fishery. Ground fish otter trawling, scallop dragging, and many other. This was to protect the depleting stocks. This was to allow industry to maintain a viable income for all involved. After the stocks rebound the freeze was to be lifted and more licenses would be allowed into the industry. This has never happened and there are many reasons for this. When they froze the licenses it forced the fisherman to fish for what ever species of fish they were allowed. This in turn made them build bigger boats, increase equipment and expand the search for the fish. They had no choice to do so; it was the only option for them to stay fishing. This was granted with public funding through the fisherman’s loan board. Prior to this if one stock was down they would simply switch over and fish another type of fish, not anymore. Then along came quotas, this was going to save the industry. DFO decided that if the limits the catches that this would help bring back stocks. In away this did work to a certain degree. But as most any fisherman will tell you, that when fishing otter trawl you can’t tell haddock to stay out when you want cod or visa versa. So what do you do? Well what any person would do when your forced to fish one type of fish, Grind up or pitch over what you don’t want and keep what you do. So really they didn’t protect anything just looked well on paper. Let’s not forget the ever so popular ITQ’s now this is a honey. Individual transferable quotas, my how I hate them, this was to help fisherman? Really? This has become a money grab from the start. DFO decided to sell quota to fisherman in efforts to cut costs to the budget. Now all the fish belong to companies (Before they are caught) and sold to their own workers to catch. Buy cheep sell high, free cash in the pocket for the wealthy on the backs of the working man. Now I see the Nova Scotia government is going to charge 5 cents a pound for lobster, this is for marketing purposes. All I can say is are you serious? Why are you marketing anything? Your not the buyers or the sellers, your suppose to be for the people who elected you not companies. They want to buy the product let them sell it. Now I see almost the same day you announce that you’re going to charge 5 cents a pound that your also going to buy back licenses from lobster fisherman to limit the amount of people in the industry this making the price go up. All I can say is if the fisherman didn’t build million dollar boats with 700 horse power engines burning 30 gallons of fuel an hour maybe they wouldn’t need higher prices. Maybe reduce size of boats back to a maintainable level. The stocks have increased this is when the fisheries is supposed to be releasing new licenses into the industry as they promised when they put the freeze on. Not the government protecting a few that went so big that the cost is too much for them. All in all, great job in bankrupting entire communities. The ones based on the fishing industry here in Nova Scotia. And keep giving them multi million dollar corporations hand outs and aid packages to keep the real fishermen down and out. Got to get the price up so those few owners and industry heads can make a few more bucks to take down to Florida in the off season. God forbid if you allow the industry to support the communities instead of companies