ELLSWORTH, Maine — American officials voiced concerns to their Canadian counterparts Wednesday as fishermen in New Brunswick continued to protest about the availability of low-cost lobster from Maine.
On Wednesday, Canadian fishermen dumped traps in a federal fisheries minister’s office in Fredericton to show their displeasure with the importation of Maine lobster for processing by Canadian firms, according to a CBC report. The incident follows days of protests at several processing plants in maritime Canada, which have resulted in some truckloads of Maine lobster being turned away by protesters and coming back across the border.
The price of lobster in Maine has been low this summer, dipping below $2 per pound that fishermen were paid for their catch, because of an unusual glut of soft-shelled lobsters on the market. The unexpectedly high number of landings in Maine in late spring and early summer created a backlog in the industry’s seasonally adjusted supply chain, which is heavily reliant on Canadian processors. The glut has pushed the price of lobster down to its lowest levels in decades.
Patrick Keliher, head of Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, said he spoke Wednesday with Michael Olscamp, New Brunswick’s fisheries minister, about the protests. He said Olscamp told him that the majority of processors in the province were expected to be shut down for the next two days and that some may be closed on Monday, too.
Keliher said that though some shipments of Maine lobster have made it through this week to New Brunswick processors, it has not been easy. On Tuesday, some trucks from Maine were diverted and had to go through a series of impromptu hoops, including the transfer of lobster to different trucks, before they could be safely unloaded, he said.
Olscamp has been in discussion with New Brunswick fishermen over a minimum price that the fishermen will receive for their lobster, but Keliher said he did not know what the price details of the negotiations have been. Once a deal is reached, the commissioner said, the protesters will end their blockades and go fishing, which would allow shipments of Maine lobster to Canada to resume without complications.
Keliher said his concern is that, if the blockades continue, lobster will start backing up on Maine docks again and the price gains over the past couple of weeks will be reversed. The price most fishermen have received has crawled back over $2 per pound of late.
“That will start to impact our price,” he said. “We’ll be right back where we were six weeks ago.”
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the largest commercial fishing advocacy in the state, issued a press release Wednesday urging Canadian officials to take action.
MLA, the release said, “is in complete sympathy with the economic situation facing Canadian fishermen but strongly rejects methods that disrupt, threaten, interfere with or otherwise impose obstacles on international commerce.”
Members of the lobster industry on either side of the border long have had a collaborative and competitive relationship, the statement indicated, which relies on open and fair trade between the two countries.
“The Maine Lobstermen’s Association calls on the Canadian government to act promptly and effectively to restore order,” the release said.
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe also issued a statement Wednesday, calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to investigate the situation. In a letter to Clinton, Snowe said that the protests and blockades have “become a serious problem” that could have serious economic consequences for Maine fishermen.
“This is an unacceptable situation that must be rectified immediately,” Snowe said. “While I understand that the New Brunswick government is attempting to control these protests, it is clear that additional Canadian resources are necessary to maintain order and ensure continued commerce across the border.”
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Rep Mike Michaud also issued statements Wednesday expressing concern about the situation in New Brunswick. Michaud said he had discussed the matter with State Department officials, while Collins said she has talked about it with David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Canada.
Canadian fishing officials and fishermen representatives have said they are talking to each other to work out an arrangement that will end the protests. The Maritime Fishermen’s Union has said it had hoped for compensation from the New Brunswick government.
But union spokesman Christian Brun says the province’s announcement Tuesday that there will be no money threw a “monkey wrench” into ongoing negotiations over lobster prices. Brun says there are plans to meet soon with federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.