By Tina Comeau
Amid a backdrop of fishing vessels sitting idle at the wharf two weeks prior to the scheduled start of the lobster fishery off southwestern Nova Scotia, fishermen were encouraged to stand up for themselves and their industry and take action against another season of low lobster prices.
One possibility being thrown out is that fishermen stay home and not set their pots when the season is slated to get underway on dumping day on Nov. 28.
But the real message to come out of a protest held at the Wedgeport Breakwater Wharf on the morning of Monday, Nov. 14, is don’t sit back and wait for the guy next door, or the guy on the next vessel, to fix the problem for you.
“The only way a solid decision can be made in what we feel has to be done is if we have a civilized and organized meeting with our port reps and voice our opinion,” said Lucien LeBlanc, a young fishing captain who organized the Nov. 14 event with fellow fisherman Kristen LeBlanc.
“For those of you today who go home and do not phone or visit your port reps in the next few days because you figure someone else will, well, you’re wrong,” Lucien LeBlanc said. “For those of you who go home today and not do anything about this issue you have no business complaining about low lobster prices if you did absolutely nothing to try and better it.
“I really encourage you to get home and get the ball rolling,” he said. “Call you port reps, express your anger and frustrations and encourage them to get fishermen together.”
LeBlanc said he’s been told it is not too late to organize some sort of action, even though the clock is ticking towards the start of the upcoming season.
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Based on prices in other fishing districts where seasons are underway, there is concern and fear that prices that will be paid here to fishermen for their catches will be in the $3.50 a pound range, or may even hover around $3.
After three years of low prices for catches, fishermen say they can’t afford such low prices any longer. They want to see a price of $5 a pound.
LeBlanc noted that in Grand Manan, where the fishery just recently opened, fishermen were only expecting to receive $3 or $3.25 a pound for their catches, which are said to be low.
“My message to those of you who are afraid of doing something about our issue in fear that it will hurt us and not have a positive impact, this year is going to hurt anyway,” LeBlanc said. “At $3 a pound most boats will go in debt . . . This year is going to hurt, and it’s going to hurt bad.”
Although the gathering on Nov. 14 was referred to as a protest, there were no placards waving, and no chants of “Hell no, we won’t go!” Instead the fishermen stood quietly absorbing LeBlanc’s message. There were fishermen from many ports in Yarmouth County present, including Wedgeport, Pubnico, Argyle, Pinkney’s Point, Little River Harbour, Yarmouth, Morris Island, and other areas. Afterwards many in the crowd said LeBlanc’s message was bang-on and they said they would be contacting their port reps. Many seem to support the idea of keeping their boats tied up when the season opens.
Still, lobster fishing area (LFA) 34, which takes in all of Yarmouth County and parts of Shelburne and Digby counties is a big area. And the neighhouring LFA 33 on the south shore of the province is also slated to open on the same day as this fishery, not to mention the fisheries in the Digby area and Grand Manan that are underway.
So how easy will it be to get a consensus in LFA 34 for some sort of action? And what if some fishermen stay home and others go fishing anyway?
LeBlanc knows it’s a concern.
“A lot of people are scared to take drastic action in fear of other districts not following and they will continue to fish while we stay ashore and continue to hold off until we can agree on a price,” he said. “But who better to send an example than the largest fishing district in all of Canada?
“If someone can set an example for our industry it may as well be us,” he said. “Our industry is in desperate need of a long-term fix, but right now we are in even greater need of a short-term fix.”
With fishermen – including the next, younger generation of fishermen – spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, and for some even close to a million dollars, for their fishing operations, another year of potentially low lobster prices is dire news.
“(For a fisherman) who has yearly payments of $80,000 on top of trying to maintain a homestead with two vehicles, a wife at home, numerous kids, not only is it nearly impossible for boat owners to make their boat mortgage payments, it is truly unfair to crews of these ships who go out and risk their lives on their captain’s boat, spend months away from home, only to come home and make a below average living.”
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