NL: Lobster fishery delayed while price dispute continues

Cory Hurley
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The Western Star

The Seafood Processors of Newfoundland and Labrador Inc. has said it can’t afford the price set by the Standing Fish Setting Price Panel and are refusing to buy lobster.

A DFO official holds a lobster in this 2010 file photo.

[YORK HARBOUR, NL] — Allan Sheppard started putting his lobster pots on his wharf Thursday in anticipation of the start of the season next week, but they may stay there for a while, according to the York Harbour fisherman.

For close to 40 years, the south shore of the Bay of Islands man has experienced the literal and figurative ups and downs of the fishery. The latest blip on the radar for lobster fishermen is another price dispute with buyers.

This year, the FFAW union wants the weekly minimum price for the crustaceans tied to the Urner Barry index out of Boston, while the buyers are calling for the formula to be the weighted average daily price multiplied by 95 per cent.

The Seafood Processors of Newfoundland and Labrador Inc., which represents 25 processing facilities in this province, has said it can’t afford the price set by the Standing Fish Setting Price Panel. They are refusing to buy lobster.

It is consecutive years the two sides could not reach a deal, with a last-minute agreement allowing the season to go ahead as scheduled last year. It came following inquiries by the fishermen to sell their catch in other provinces.

Sheppard attended a meeting with FFAW representatives Friday morning, and said the union decided to delay next week’s season start by a week.

“We are not sure where we are going, none of the buyers are buying and the union are trying to get them back to the bargaining table to see what we are going to do,” he said.

The delayed start to the fishery will allow time for the union to look at outside buyers if things are not resolved with the local groups, according to Sheppard. Wednesday’s date to set traps for the Friday start has been moved to the following Wednesday.

There was a time the price was based on 70 per cent of the Boston market value. Although it was successful most times, Sheppard said, there were occasions fishermen did not get their fair share.

He said lobster was selling for $6.25 a pound in Nova Scotia last week, and typically it sells for approximately 75 cents less in this province. There has been a drop in the Nova Scotia prices since, so he would expect to be getting between $4.50 to $5 a pound to start the season.

Unfortunately, while that increase from recent years would be a positive, he said he is concerned buyers are refusing to pay it.

“If it works out, it would be good,” he said. “But, the buyers are saying they took a big loss from the lobster prices they paid last year. I don’t know if that is true or not.

“For years, we would get five and six dollars a pound for lobster, and it has only been the last couple of years, with the decline in the economy in the (United) States and the Canadian dollar (rising), we have not.”

Sheppard said he understands the market issues facing buyers, and said everybody is in a difficult situation. However, he said fishermen can’t participate in a fishery where they do not make a profit.

Right now, he is hoping for a resolve and to be able to get out on the water.

“We are optimistic,” he said. “Everybody was anxious to get started, and we thought we would get a decent price. Now, we don’t know where it will end up in a couple of weeks time when all of Nova Scotia comes on stream with their product.

“Our hands are tied. The union and the buyers will deal with it, the fishermen just have to hang tough and see what happens.”

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador, FFAW union

Geographic location: YORK HARBOUR, Boston, Western Star Bay of Islands Nova Scotia

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