BY ANDY WALKER
As PEI lobster fishermen geared up for the spring season, both fear and optimism were present in almost equal measure.
The optimism comes from the expectation of higher prices when the first catches are landed. While such upbeat predictions often accompany a season opening with varying degrees of success, the president of the PEI Fishermen’s Association is confident it will be different this time.
Mike McGeoghegan said the group was getting calls from as far away as China in the days before the May 1 opening looking for lobster. The veteran fishermen said that is an indication of tight supplies, not only in PEI, but in the world market.
He is confident Island fishermen will be seeing opening prices in the $5 to $6-a-pound price for market lobsters – prices similar to those in the winter fishery in Nova Scotia. However, even at that level he said it will take time to recover from several years of poor prices.
The fear comes from what might happen if the Department of Fisheries and Oceans proceeds with the elimination of two policies that have been the cornerstone of the inshore fishery – the fleet separation and the owner/operator policy. Both long-standing policies are designed to prevent corporate takeover of the inshore fishery.
Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield has not specifically indicated the two policies are to be abolished. However, he is not prepared to say the idea is not on the table. Liberal Fisheries Critic Lawrence MacAulay, who represents the eastern PEI riding of Cardigan, attempted to force the government’s hand by moving a motion in the Commons Fisheries Committee to retain the fleet separation policy. It was voted down by the Conservative majority. If change is not in the works, in all likelihood the government would have supported the motion.
MacAulay organized a meeting on the issue recently that attracted over 400 people. Fishermen after fishermen took the podium of the threat to their livelihood elimination of the two policies would impose.
Charlie McGeoghegan is both a fishermen and MLA for the rural riding of Belfast-Murray River. He said without these, the inshore fishery in British Columbia is 90 per cent owned “by a handful of people, none of whom ever set foot in a boat. Former Conservative federal fisheries minister Loyola Hearn describes our plight best, and I quote: Those who work in the fishery should enjoy the wealth of the resource, not someone sitting in a condo in Florida.”
While any changes to those policies are not likely to happen in time to impact the industry this season, it is the proverbial elephant in the room that will cause fishers to look to the future with a considerable degree of trepidation.