AMHERST – A three-person panel studying the Maritime lobster industry is suggesting that significant changes are required if the multi-million-dollar lobster fishery is to have a future
The findings of the Maritime Lobster Panel were released at a press conference in Amherst on Thursday, including 33 recommendations in areas of industry relationships, operations and structure.
“The panel takes the view that this industry needs to make wholesale changes,” panelists Gilles Theriault, John Hanlon and Lewis Creed suggested in their 96-page report.
Since beginning its work in July, the panel met with about 100 organizations representing fishermen, buyers, shippers, processors, brokers and First Nations people throughout the Maritimes and as far away as Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and Maine.
The panel also received 30 written submissions.
The report addresses five key areas, including why the price dropped suddenly in the spring, and examines the various cost and revenue components of harvesters, buyers and processors in the Maritimes.
It also provides strategic advice on marketing initiatives and on a course of action to stabilize and then increase prices paid to harvesters.
Finally, it identifies options for a formal system where the industry would know the price that will be paid to fishermen prior in advance of landings.
Under relationships, the panel’s recommendations are presented in an attempt to shift from the lack of co-operation across sectors and governments to a new reality, while under operations it wants to see a shift from the current practice of high volume fishing over short periods and its consequences to one where, “the pace of harvesting is matched with the onshore capacity to deal with that harvest in a manner that provides the best chance for each lobster to achieve its fullest value potential.”
Essential to that, the panel said, is improving the quality of lobster that’s entering the marketplace.
The panel is recommending the establishment of an independent Maritime lobster market intelligence institute and is suggesting that industry and governments come together to develop and implement a comprehensive generic marketing and promotion campaign for Canadian lobster.
Within the Maritimes, the panel wants to see the development and implementation of a “price-setting mechanism for determining price pre-season provided that such a mechanism is based on legislation, is not mandatory, but once engaged by a particular fleet or group, the price negotiated becomes the minimum legal price that can be paid to that fleet or group.”
To finance these initiatives, the panel suggests implementing an industry levy with one cent paid by the fishermen for each pound landed and another cent per pound paid by onshore sectors.
“We believe this strategy is the key to achieving the final objective presented to the panel by the Maritime Fisheries ministers, which was to provide advice to stabilize and then increase the price paid to fishermen while taking into consideration other industry players.”
In concrete terms, the panel sees no reason why the shore price for canner and market lobsters cannot be at least $4 and $5 per pound respectively with relative corresponding returns to other onshore sectors.
In closing, the panel called on leadership from politicians, government agencies and from the various industry sectors that spoke passionately through the process.
The panel was appointed by the three Maritime Fisheries ministers in May after a downturn in lobster prices led fishermen to stop fishing in protest.
At first, the panel heard skepticism that its appointment was just a way for government to say it was doing something. In the end, the panel feels the industry took its mandate seriously and provided valuable insight on how the industry operates.
“However, when we invited the industry to come and meet with us, there was a very strong and positive response,” the panel said. “People came prepared with well thought out views and suggestions to put forward. We had good, productive exchanges and were told they considered the panel’s work to be important and that we needed to take the time necessary to do a proper job.”