When the Maritimes’ three fisheries ministers met in Amherst last week they emerged from a two-hour meeting with a united call for the creation of an independent panel to examine the challenges facing the lobster industry. What we hope it doesn’t become is another study left to gather a dust on a shelf in some bureaucrat’s office while we face the same problems a year from now.
The lobster fishery is facing perhaps its greatest crisis with many who depend on the crustacean contemplating life after the fishery in the same way many who relied on cod did after that fishery collapsed 20 years ago.
At issue is the price being offered at the wharf by processors and concerns about whether enough of an effort is being make to market lobster to new markets outside the Atlantic region and North America.
Several years ago, when the price of lobster was around $7 a pound, everyone appeared happy. Lobster fishermen were making good money and reporting solid catches. The processors were happy because the product was in high demand from markets here and abroad.
Then the recession happened, people weren’t as hungry for what they viewed as a luxury product and the price began to take a precipitous dip to where some lobster fisherman are only getting around $3 a pound when they feel they need at least $5 a pound to break even.
All three ministers attending last week’s meetings were quick to point out there is no easy solution to what the industry is facing. As P.E.I.’s minister, Ron MacKinley said, if they knew the answers there’d be no need for the meeting and no need for a panel.
When this panel is put together in the coming weeks, one of its first orders of business will be to try to overcome the level of mistrust that exists between those who fish the lobster and those who process and sell it to consumers. Relations between the two appear to be at their lowest, but if this industry is expected to have a future for the next generation of fishermen and consumers both sides have to adopt a much more conciliatory approach and work together for the benefit of everyone.
Unfortunately, if everyone involved in the industry, including government, goes into the process with their positions entrenched and their minds made up, no panel is going to have any success at coming up with workable and realistic solutions. If that’s the case everyone will suffer. There’ll be fewer fishermen to catch lobsters, fewer people to process the lobster and fewer customers for what’s one of this region’s biggest resources. And another expensive government study will be left to become an afterthought, a dust-catcher in the bookcase of history.