Canadian judge grants injunction against protesters blocking delivery of Maine lobsters

Lobsters are unloaded from a fishing boat Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in Portland, Maine. Maine's lobster harvest seems to be hitting an economic wall, with a plentiful catch causing low prices that are disgruntling lobstermen in Canada.
Lobsters are unloaded from a fishing boat Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in Portland, Maine. Maine's lobster harvest seems to be hitting an economic wall, with a plentiful catch causing low prices that are disgruntling lobstermen in Canada.
Posted Aug. 09, 2012, at 6:14 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 09, 2012, at 7:30 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — In response to a request from Canadian lobster processors, a judge in New Brunswick on Thursday granted a 10-day injunction against protesting fishermen to prevent them from blockading processing plants in the province.

The fishermen have prevented the plants from accepting deliveries of lobster from Maine, where a glut of soft-shell lobsters has pushed prices down to their lowest point in decades. Canadian lobstermen say the low price of Maine lobsters is driving down prices in Canada and stealing their livelihood.

The protests over lobster prices flared up last week, when hundreds of fishermen held demonstrations in Cap-Pele and Shediac, New Brunswick, and trucks were prevented from delivering Maine lobsters to three processors. The demonstrations spilled over into Prince Edward Island, where at least two lobster processors agreed to stop processing Maine product.

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe released a statement Thursday afternoon, calling the injunction “welcome news” for Maine lobstermen and truckers. The injunction limits protests at plants to six people and requires them to stay at least 200 feet from the facilities, the statement indicated.

Snowe said she hopes a more permanent resolution to the Canadian price dispute can be reached while the injunction is in place.

“While we work on a long-term solution, I am hopeful that the Canadian government will enforce this injunction and provide the resources to ensure that commerce can also return to normal,” Snowe said.

Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said Thursday that the organization was “very excited” to hear the injunction had been granted.

“It’s a huge development that we can get back to normal,” McCarron said. “To have Maine products flow freely to those [processors] will help restore normal trade.”

She said the protesting lobstermen fish in a zone along the Northumberland Strait between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island that is open to lobster fishing for 10 weeks in late summer and early fall. The area’s fishing season was due to start today, she said, but now it is expected to open on Monday, Aug. 13.

McCarron said it has been “hugely stressful” to Maine fishermen to be blocked out of the market at a time when the price they are getting for their catch is so low. Now, she added, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has to “step up to the plate” to ensure that the injunction is enforced.

Meredith Mendelson, deputy commissioner for the Maine Department of Marine Resources, said Thursday that the injunction is a good step toward resolving the crisis. She said the processors could request that the injunction be extended another 10 days if necessary.

“We are optimistic that this injunction will be a key component of moving forward,” Mendelson said. “We’re hoping 10 days will be enough to solve the situation.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins also released a statement Thursday, saying she intends to stay in contact with the State Department to help make sure there is a full resolution to the Canadian price dispute.

“Specifically, we must have assurances that our lobstermen will have full access to processing facilities throughout the region and after the 10-day injunction is over,” Collins said.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree issued her own release stating that on Thursday she had asked the head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to provide increased protection for trucks bringing Maine lobster to processing plants in Canada. Pingree said that in a letter to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, she asked for police escorts for the trucks until the volatile situation in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island cools down.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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