BY CORY HURLEY
It was a long, hard day on the water, but the wind, rain and cold didn’t stop lobster fisherman Allan Sheppard from heading out from Little Port through the south shore of the Bay of Islands on Wednesday, April 25, to set lobster traps.
For close to 40 years, the York Harbour fisherman has battled whatever elements have stood in his way to do what it takes to earn his income. These days those elements include the onshore issues plaguing the lobster fishery. Fishermen are pulling out all the stops to try to gain the upper hand in those battles as well.
Fishermen and the union have been in a pricing dispute with buyers for weeks, with buyers refusing to purchase lobster under the established pricing formula. Following a series of meetings Sunday, fishermen decided to create a co-op to buy their own lobster. Earle Mccurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union, said the group will ship lobster later this week.
“Something had to be done,” Sheppard said Monday evening with a sigh.
“If no one is buying our lobster — that is the mainstay here on the west coast — you are almost pushed into a corner.”
Sheppard said he thinks the move by the union is a good one, but said there are challenges.
“To try to set up buying stations all over this island now, we have no crates or baits or bands,” he said. “A lot has to happen in the next couple of days for all this to work.
“It is probably a good idea, no doubt about that. If the buyers are not going to buy, we have to do something.”
In western Newfoundland, Sheppard said fishermen do not survive without a lobster season. He estimated it to be at least 80 per cent of most of their incomes.
Sheppard believes the outcome of this situation could have a lasting effect on the future of the industry in this province. If the co-op is established, and successful, it could set a trend for other species as well.
“I have heard a lot of fellows say, ‘if the buyers are not going to buy my lobsters this year and the co-op goes ahead and buys our lobsters, they will also be getting my crab next year,’” he said.
Last year, a late compromise was reached to allow the season to continue. It was that agreement, the Seafood Processors of Newfoundland and Labrador claim cost it a lot of money.
Sheppard said he thinks the buyers will come forward last minute again, looking to buy lobster. This time, fishermen have a decision to make.
“Come Wednesday, there are going to be a lot of lobsters along this coastline for somebody to put somewhere,” he said. “A lot of fellows have a decent relationship with their buyers. Where they wouldn’t buy lobster, and have us in this predicament, I have a feeling they are going to break, but should we go back now and sell our lobster to them or should we sell them to the co-op?”