POLITICS

Lobster fee would have to involve southwest Nova Scotia fishermen:buyer

05/25/2015 02:50 EDT | Updated 05/25/2016 05:59 EDT
HALIFAX - Any belief that a potential lobster marketing fee can move ahead without fishermen from southwestern Nova Scotia was categorically put to rest Monday by a buyer from the region.

Terry Zinck was reacting to comments made Thursday by Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell who said any potential agreement on a fee could be reached with buyers only in the province's largest lobster fishery.

Colwell clarified the comment a day later, saying any contribution from lobster buyers and processors would require the support of the entire industry.

Zinck, who is chairman of a representative committee set up by the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association, said a buyers-only agreement is not an option.

"We are willing to sit down and put our piece together," said Zinck. "We are not going to start a fund and wait for others to join in."

Zinck said talks with the minister and his department have only been preliminary to date and the two sides need formal discussions before any agreement is reached.

"Even if we do all that . . . until the other players are in place we come to a standstill at that point," he said.

Zinck said any final agreement on a fee would have to involve a three-way split between buyers, fishermen and the province.

He said the confusion over Colwell's comments underscores the challenge in getting an agreement.

Zinck said many in the sector feel there hasn't been adequate consultation since the levy idea was adopted following the so-called lobster summit, which brought together industry interests from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in the spring of 2014.

Woods Harbour, N.S., fisherman Sandy Forbes said while the levy may be a good idea, it gained "zero support" in his area during consultations held by the province in February.

"The problem is the fishermen won't have any control over anything as far as I can see," said Forbes.

Ivan MacDonald, who works with a small group of fisherman organized by Forbes, said there is a general mistrust of government motives. He blamed it on what he described as Ottawa's lack of enforcement of the so-called owner operator policy that was supposed to ensure the independence of the inshore fleet.

Ashton Spinney, of the Lobster Fishing Area 34 Management Board, said fishermen also aren't convinced their money will be used in a way that benefits them.

"From the fisherman's perspective, they need to have the assurance that this is not going to be good money thrown after bad," said Spinney.

While the fee issue is far from settled in Nova Scotia, fishermen and processors in Prince Edward Island have already each agreed to pay a one-cent per pound levy once the Island's new cabinet approves it.

Ian MacPherson, manager of the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association, said once that's done the Island's lobster sector is prepared to move ahead with its own initiatives.

"If there is a regional effort that everybody's on board with the situation will be reassessed," said MacPherson.