Fisheries ministers hope lobster levy will be in place by year’s end

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Fisheries ministers from the Maritimes say they hope a levy to market the lobster industry will be in place by the end of the year, but some consultation is still needed with fisheries organizations.

The levy would see fishermen and the onshore side of the industry each pay one cent per pound of lobster caught to help market their product, which has been plagued by poor prices.

Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell said there’s consensus among most fishermen and processors to act.

“There’s a willingness to do this now,” Colwell said Thursday after a meeting on the lobster industry ended in Halifax. “There will be some kickback from some individuals that complain about everything, and that’s fine. We’re going to move forward.”

The levy was proposed last November by a three-member panel that reviewed the lobster industry and it’s estimated about $2.5 million a year could be collected through the fee.

Colwell and his counterparts from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island met for two days this week in Halifax with industry representatives at meetings to discuss slumping prices.

Last year, frustrated lobster fishermen tied up their boats at wharves for days to draw attention to their struggling industry.

Colwell said the economic rationale behind the levy is simple: better marketing means a better price. Lobster touted as a delicacy can fetch better prices.

“We need to tie quality into marketing and put it all together as a package instead of getting $5 or $6 a pound for lobster in a market where we can probably get $25 a pound,” he said.

Fisheries ministers from P.E.I. and New Brunswick said co-operation and communication between the provinces will be key as the levy is implemented.

“We’re dealing with an industry that’s been fragmented for years,” said New Brunswick’s Michael Olscamp. “These past two days, the gap has closed quite substantially.”

Earlier Thursday, federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea told fishermen, processors and others in the lobster industry that they need to stop fighting and work together if the sector is to thrive.

Shea said the federal government wants to work with lobster fishermen to resolve challenges and address issues contained in the panel report, but the industry needs to take the lead.

However, she said the government is only interested in working with legitimate organizations with a clear mandate from their members, not splinter groups “of three or four people that got huffed and left and started their own organization.”

“The sectors of the industry are not working together well,” Shea said after her speech. “It’s obvious that we spend too much time fighting amongst each other instead of coming together to promote the product we do have because it is a world-class product.”

Robert Courtney of the North of Smokey Fishermen’s Association in Nova Scotia said he supports the levy, but he hopes Ottawa and the provinces will also contribute.

“I don’t agree with letting the government off the hook,” said Courtney, whose group represents about 140 fishermen from Antigonish to Louisbourg. “They stand to gain, too, if we’ve got an industry that’s good and prosperous.”

Organizations: Association in Nova Scotia

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Halifax, Prince Edward Island Nova Scotia Smokey Fishermen Ottawa Antigonish Louisbourg

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