Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ottawa says money for lobster fishermen would violate trade pact

Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea says providing Maritimes lobster fishermen with subsidies in this time of low prices would violate Canada's trade agreement with the United States.

Instead, Shea said, the industry needs to be revamped to include more efforts in publicity and marketing of Atlantic lobster.

“It’s a supply-and-demand market, right?” Shea told CBC News on Saturday. “So you either have to increase the demand or decrease the supply. They have to match to get the maximum price for your product.”

The fisheries minister was in Moncton, N.B., on Friday to attend an emergency meeting with lobster fishermen in the region. The fishermen had expected Shea to provide them with more immediate financial aid to get them through this season's low prices.

Cannery lobsters have been selling for $3.50 a pound in some supermarkets in the region, compared with $3.99 for a pound of bologna. Some lobster fishermen have said the price of lobster this season is the lowest they've seen in decades.

The federal government will work with lobster fishermen to help them boost prices, Shea said.

Union says help needed now

However, Maritime Fishermen's Union representative Michel Richard said that approach will not help members who are out in their boats this season.

"First of all, there has to be some way to have an adjustment on the price to at least get the fishermen to make it to the end of the season,” Richard said.

Richard said the federal government and the provinces must realize the lobster fishery is just as vital to this region as other industries that receive government money to deal with an economic downturn.

“What the government has to know is that we're as important as the forestry sector and we're certainly as important as the auto industry,” Richard said.

Richard said the MFU plans to meet Monday evening to come up with its own plan to deal with the pricing crisis. The union hopes to have that plan in place later this week.