05/15/2013 07:20 EDT | Updated 07/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Ashfield won't intervene in Maritime lobster price dispute

Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield says he won't be intervening in the dispute over lobster prices in the Maritimes.

It's a market-driven problem, and it's up to industry to find a solution, said Ashfield, who is the MP for Fredericton, N.B.

"You know, when your back is against the wall, you tend to think a little harder and come up with some better ideas. And I think the fishermen realize they can't make a living at $2.75 a pound and hopefully we'll be able to come up with solutions," he said on Wednesday.

Asked about the federal department's role, Ashfield said it's "purely regulatory."

"That's on the licensing side and making sure we have a sustainable fishery," he said. "Once it hits the wharf, we have no control over it after that."

Ashfield made the comments as fisheries ministers from the Maritime provinces were meeting in Amherst, N.S., to discuss recent protests by lobster fishermen over low prices and what can be done to resolve the situation.

Independent panel to be struck

The provincial ministers contend the federal government has a key role to play in the management of the fishery and the development of international markets.

Meanwhile, they have decided to create an independent panel to examine the factors affecting lobster prices in Atlantic Canada and to work collectively on marketing initiatives.

The panel will consider ways to ensure the best return for all stakeholders and communities involved, recognizing the uniqueness of the various fishing areas in the region and of the products produced, whether live or processed.

The provincial ministers also plan to reach out to other jurisdictions, including Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, and Maine.

"It was a productive meeting," New Brunswick Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries Minister Michael Olscamp said in a statement.

"It is an eastern Canadian issue. It is only by working together that we can move forward," he said.

Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Sterling Belliveau described the meeting as "crucial to the future of our coastal communities."

"Working together, we can find solutions to an important issue facing families in our region," Belliveau said in a statement.

P.E.I. has already appointed former auditor general Colin Younker to review the industry and the prices paid to fishermen at the wharf.

But the island's Fisheries, Aquaculture and Rural Development Minister Ron MacKinley said he is pleased to be "co-perating with others in Atlantic Canada facing similar challenges."

Senior government officials are expected to report back to the provincial ministers within two weeks about the terms of reference and membership of the independent panel.

Back on the water

Fishermen in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island tied up their boats for nearly a week, fighting for better prices from seafood processors.

The price that brokers are willing to pay varies across all three provinces but ranges between $2.75 and $3.75 per pound for canner lobster, and between $3.25 and $4 per pound for market-sized.

Many fishermen say that with the rising costs of fuel and bait, settling for anything less than $5 per pound is unreasonable.

Most of them returned to the water this week.