Hillary Clinton asked to investigate N.B. lobster dispute
Published Thursday, August 9, 2012 4:57PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, August 10, 2012 11:07AM EDT
A U.S. senator is asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to investigate an ongoing dispute between New Brunswick and Maine fishermen regarding the import of American lobstersat low prices.
In a letter to Clinton, Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe said the situation is “unacceptable” and asked her to make the issue a “priority” in U.S.-Canada relations.
The U.S. Embassy in Ottawa has also contacted the RCMP in New Brunswick, according to a news release posted on Snowe’s website.
The dispute came to a head last week when protesting New Brunswick fishermen blocked trucks from delivering Maine lobsters to three processing plants in the province.
On Thursday, a judge issued a 10-day injunction preventing the blockades.
The fishermen, who also protested Wednesday in front of politicians’ offices in Fredericton, say their livelihoods are at risk because lobsters from Maine are bought at such low prices that they can’t compete.
New Brunswick processors are buying Maine lobster for about $2 a pound, but Canadian fishermen say selling their own product at that price is financially unsustainable.
In a news release, the president of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, François Beaudin, said receiving 50 cents less per pound of lobster may seem like “peanuts,” but for him that adds up to a yearly loss of $8,500.
“For this year, it is a very large portion of my net income – net income, for me, means the meagre salary that will get my family though the year and will pay for my 2013 fishing gear,” he said.
The processors agreed last week to pay a minimum of $2.50 per pound for processed lobster and $3 per pound for live market lobster. But union officials said New Brunswick fishermen need $4 per pound for both fresh and processed lobster just to break even.
New Brunswick’s Fisheries Minister Michael Olscamp has refused to offer compensation to fishermen to make up the difference, saying the move would “set a very dangerous precedent.”
Snowe called the demonstrations and blockades by “some disgruntled Canadian lobstermen” a “misguided attempt to protest the low retail price of lobster.”
In her letter to Clinton, she said the blockades forced the lobster processing plants to shut down, “and shipments containing tens of thousands of pounds of Maine lobsters were sent back to the state.
“In some circumstances, the product was damaged or destroyed. This is an unacceptable situation that must be rectified immediately,” she wrote.
"While I understand that the New Brunswick government is attempting to control these protests, it is clear that additional Canadian resources are necessary to maintain order and ensure continued commerce across the border," Snowe said.
"Any acts of intimidation, violence, or coercion cannot be tolerated and order must be maintained to ensure that our relationship with our Canadian partners does not undermine our long-term collaborative relationship on critical fisheries and maritime issues.”
In an effort to quell demonstrations, the New Brunswick government has offered fishermen who took part in a government loan program an extra year to pay back the money, but their union refused.
New Brunswick Premier David Alward told reporters Thursday the events leading up to the court injunction “reiterate the importance of the issue and the fact that we need to find a resolution to it.”
The fishermen’s union is scheduled to meet with federal fisheries officials Friday.
Opposition Leader Victor Boudreau said the lobster dispute should serve as a “call to action” for Alward’s government.
“It would be awfully embarrassing for the province of New Brunswick if Hillary Clinton got involved in this issue,” he told CTV Atlantic.
With a report from CTV Atlantic’s Nick Moore and files from The Canadian Press