By Tina Comeau
In advance of the upcoming lobster season, crewmembers in lobster fishing area 34 – which encompasses Yarmouth County and parts of Shelburne and Digby counties – are being invited to a meeting on Nov. 21 to discuss the industry from their perspective.
As for what will come out of this, the meeting's organizer Troy Nickerson, a crewmember who resides in Lower West Pubnico, isn’t sure. Still, he feels it is important that this part of the industry be given the opportunity to say what’s on its mind.
Nickerson says while there is a lot of attention paid to licence holders who have difficulty making ends meet in trying to cover their expenses with continued slumping shore prices, he says crewmembers are in the same boat. Crewmembers don’t have to make boat payments, or pay for bait, traps or rope. But just as licence holders do, crewmembers still have mortgage payments, vehicle payments and other bills associated with running a household and/or raising a family.
“Another year of declining prices is going to have another tremendous impact on the local economy,” says Nickerson, who points out that crewmembers don’t get much chance to share their thoughts on the industry, whereas meetings are often held for buyers and processors, or licence holders.
“We are one of the main cogs in the industry, a very large part of it, and yet we’ve never really taken the time to get together and to discuss things and to find out if we have answers within ourselves to offer up to the industry,” he says.
The Wednesday meeting will be held at Drumlin Heights Consolidated School, which is located in Glenwood, just off Exit 32 on Highway 103. The meeting gets underway at 7 p.m.
“Whether answers can come out of the meeting, I’m not sure. As much as I’d like to promise something could come out of it, I can’t,” says Nickerson. “Attendance is going to be a great indicator as to whether anything can be accomplished with the meeting.”
With the number of licence holders there are in LFA 34, presuming there are two crewmembers on each boat, this would account for around 1,970 hired hands. But not all boats are necessarily taking two crewmembers anymore.
The way crewmembers are paid varies. Some receive a percentage from off the top before any expenses are paid. Some get a percentage after expenses are paid. Some may get a weekly wage.
In a fishery where fishermen are expected to leave the wharf at the beginning of the season without knowing what they will be paid for their catches, low shore prices have crippled the industry for the past few years. And so far this year the situation isn’t expected to be any different. If anything, there are predictions it would be worse.
With this year’s season scheduled to open on Monday, Nov. 26, whether fishermen will go fishing that day or stay home in protest in search of a higher price is anyone’s guess.
Meanwhile, Nickerson stresses this week’s meeting for crewmembers is not aimed at bashing anyone in the industry – not the buyers, not the processors and not the licence holders. Rather, he says, the goal is to have constructive dialogue.
“It’s to talk about what’s going on and how it’s affecting us and where we would go from there,” he says.