05/13/2013 10:09 EDT | Updated 07/13/2013 05:12 EDT

Maritime fisheries ministers hope to meet to discuss lobster pricing

Fisheries ministers in the Maritimes say they plan to sit down and examine the pricing structure for lobsters as fishermen continue to tie up their boats to protest slumping prices.

Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Sterling Belliveau said Monday he is trying to set up a meeting with his counterparts from P.E.I. and New Brunswick later this week.

Belliveau met with fishermen from throughout Nova Scotia to come up with ways to resolve the ongoing dispute, get fishermen back on the water and probe a pricing system that has frustrated lobster harvesters for years.

"This is a very good first start," he said in an interview after the meeting in Truro. "We're suggesting there be a panel established to address the marketing price structure, of how that's evolved."

Belliveau also said he's looking at creating a promotional campaign to expand the lobster market, pursuing certification of the fishery as sustainable and finding efficiencies in the industry.

He said he is also trying to set up a meeting with processors, who have said they can't afford to pay fishermen more than what is being offered.

The meeting came after fishermen tied up their lobster boats more than a week ago to draw attention to prices that have dipped to about $4 a pound in Nova Scotia and as low as $3.25 in P.E.I.

On the Island on Monday, Premier Robert Ghiz met with the Prince Edward Island Fisherman's Association. He said he has asked former auditor general Colin Younker to examine price structures for lobsters in Atlantic Canada, volumes of landings and market conditions.

Ghiz said in a statement that it should illuminate "the complicated pricing structures of live and processed lobster."

He said the province will also look at the terms of the Low Interest Loan Program as they relate to lobster prices, and determine how to assist fishermen.

He said he also asked the provincial fisheries minister to begin talks with his counterparts in Atlantic Canada and federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield.

"This situation is unprecedented in the lobster fishery in Prince Edward Island and it is affecting the livelihood of fishers, processors and plant workers across the province," said Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley.

Ronnie Heighton, president of the Northumberland Fisherman's Association, said before the meeting that the government needs to offer more structure in the pricing of lobster.

"We realize that (Belliveau) can't come up with the price, but there's other things he can do for us," Heighton said. "Put some rules and restrictions on the buyers and make them more clear as to what's going on."

Heighton said buyers should explain why they're paying the price they are. He said boats have been tied up across the Maritimes for the past several days and the price of lobster hasn't budged.

"We cut off the supply, the demand still must be there, so why didn't the price go up?"

In P.E.I., Michael McGeoghegan of the P.E.I. Fisherman's Association said the situation was becoming difficult for fishermen, plant workers and processors.

"We're in a crisis here on P.E.I. and we'll probably need the (federal government) to step in too to solve this problem," McGeoghegan said before the meeting with the premier. "Enough is enough."

McGeoghegan it's not worth fishing for a product that won't cover the cost of fuel, bait and labour.

The Island fishermen say they won't fish until they are paid about $5 per pound for market lobsters — about $1.75 more than the current price.

"The system is broken," said McGeoghegan. "Nobody can tell you what the price of lobster is two weeks into the season, but yet as soon as you pass the lobster to an individual it automatically turns into gold.

"When we have it, it's a piece of lead."