New Brunswick's minister of fisheries is trying to organize a meeting between lobster fishermen in the southeastern part of the province and fish plant owners to help settle a dispute over cheap lobster from the United States.
Michael Olscamp says he's willing to work through this holiday weekend to try to defuse the situation and ensure the lobster season on the Northumberland Strait opens as scheduled next week.
But there’s one condition attached, said Olscamp.
"I just want to make it clear to the people, the fishers who are out there protesting right now and blocking entrances to plants, that that meeting will not take place unless they withdraw their actions," he told CBC News.
On Thursday, fishermen blockaded three plants — two in Cap-Pelé and one in Shediac. The RCMP had to be called in to help.
The fishermen are upset that plant owners have brought in tractor-trailer loads of cheap and plentiful lobsters from Maine just before their season opens. They say they cannot match the U.S. prices and worry the glut of cheap American lobster will mean no market for their catches.
U.S. lobster is currently selling for about $2 per pound — due in part to an earlier-than-usual harvest this year.
In Maine, there have been significant catches of shedder lobsters, which have a soft shell and generally don't command the prices that the hard-shell lobsters do.
The fishermen say if a meeting with the minister is not successful, they will continue to block processing plants that accept American lobster.
Shediac protest heated
About 200 fishermen blocked a load of lobster at Shediac Bay Processors on Thursday. They surrounded the owner and insisted he send his workers home.
“Shut it down. Shut it down,” they shouted.
One fisherman grabbed a handful of U.S. lobster and threw it on the pavement.
“It's garbage. It's garbage,” the fishermen said as about six RCMP officers and 10 members of the emergency tactical team looked on.
The Shediac plant did shut down, despite having just received 36 tonnes of lobster from Maine.
Police managed to escort the truck, driven by Leonard Garnett, out of the province.
“I sympathize with the guys because they're telling me the price of the lobster they're going to get, we're getting the same price back home,” said Garnett. “Our boats over home are getting the same prices.”
On Wednesday, dozens of fishermen stood outside a processing plant in Bedec, where they yelled at the plant owner and reportedly turned off the refrigeration units holding the lobster.
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