Nova Scotia lobstermen have tied up their boats, protesting the low prices dealers are paying for the tasty crustaceans.
The fishermen also are suggesting collusion between Canadian and U.S. dealers, but they aren’t leveling specific charges.
Jim Hurlburt of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, said that all 1,700 lobstermen in southwest Nova Scotia had tied up their boats, refusing to sell lobsters for the $2.50 a pound now offered by dealers.
“We just got together, and this snowballed into a total tie-up overnight,” said Hurlburt, who has been an organizer of the protest.
“We think $3 a pound is a fair price. They (dealers) are telling us the times can’t take this,” Hurlburt said.
The lobstering season in Nova Scotia runs from the end of November until the end of May, when Maine’s lobster-catching effort is at its lowest. Most Maine lobstermen pull their traps in winter, and only a few larger boats go after lobster in the deeper waters where a winter catch can be found.
The Nova Scotians use larger boats and fish winters only. During recent years, prices at the start of the winter season were $3 a pound. This year, Hurlburt said, prices fell in Nova Scotia and Maine just when the season started.
David Cousens of South Thomaston is president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, which supports the effort of the Nova Scotians.
“We can’t prove it,” Cousens said, “but we think dealers are trying to fix the price at an artificially low level so they can make more money.” He that said several Maine and Nova Scotia dealers met last month.
Stephen Wessler, deputy state attorney general in charge of the consumer fraud and antitrust division, said that his office had received no complaints of dealer collusion from any Maine lobstermen.
Although they are supporting their Canadian neighbors, Maine lobstermen plan no tie-up. “There are so few of us lobstering now that it would do no good,” Cousens said.
Dealers say that the economy has caused the lower prices.
“This year there is a market malaise. Everyone is apprehensive,” said Peter Larson, president of Atwood Bros. Inc., a lobster dealer in Tenants Harbor.
Atwood Bros. has a buyer in Nova Scotia. Larson said the tie-up hadn’t yet affected Atwood Bros., but he said dealers might be forced to offer higher prices to have enough lobsters for the Christmas season. But prices are apt to be low during the winter, Larson said.
“I just talked with a buyer in the Washington, D.C., area, and he told me that restaurants just weren’t serving lobster,” Larson said. “People are eating out less and spending less when they do.”
“There’s just not a lot of lobster business to be had,” said Edward Black of Edward L. Black Seafood & Trucking in Port Clyde. He said the tie-up in Nova Scotia would provide no long-term benefit to the lobstermen.
Cousens agreed that the New York and Boston markets for lobster were flat. He criticized Maine dealers for not negotiating more sales to foreign buyers.
“Some of the foreign markets are paying $8 to $10 a pound,” Cousens said.
He said that some Maine dealers were too “lazy” to pursue those lucrative markets.
Meanwhile, Hurlburt said that Nova Scotia lobstermen were prepared to “sit it out” until they get what they want.