By Tina Comeau
A low turnout of fishermen gathered on Yarmouth’s waterfront Wednesday morning, Dec. 5, to listen as James Mood of the 1688 Professional Lobster Fishermen Association told them the association wants to see fishermen shut down the industry to allow time to negotiate with buyers for a better price.
Fishermen are hauling in catches but only getting paid $3 a pound and there is fear the price will drop even lower.
At the meeting a newsletter was informally distributed to some in attendance that contained the heading “Uniting is the key.”
And that is part of the problem, said fishermen after the meeting wrapped up.
Everyone agrees they don’t like the price, but the fishermen are not united. They questioned what could be accomplished from a meeting attended by a few dozen crewmembers, a few business people and only a handful of captains. A few captains who were fishing sent their wives to represent them at the meeting. A rough count of the crowd suggested there were around 70 people in attendance. Whether the turnout would have been greater had the meeting been held later in the day when fishermen weren't fishing is unknown.
While those who attended the meeting agreed overall with what was being said, what isn’t known is what fishermen who weren’t at the meeting are prepared to do.
Fishermen who complain about a $3-a-pound lobster still went out fishing Wednesday on a day when a better price, given the wind that was blowing, might have normally kept them home.
But they’re fishing harder to catch more lobsters to try to make more money. It's not that they support the price, it's that they have bills to pay and families to support.
But Mood told those who gathered that fishing harder for a $3-a-pound lobster is not the right approach and the situation will only worsen unless some sort of action is taken.
“If you keep fishing you’re going to catch 80 per cent of these lobsters by Jan. 1 and you’re not going to make any money at $3 a pound,” said Mood. “I’m talking to fishermen. You have a problem and you can fix this if you want to. Going harder is not the right thing to do, you have to get smarter.”
And by smarter he said fishermen can’t keep feeding buyers and the markets with lobsters that they’re only going to get paid $3 a pound for.
“What we want to do, 1688, we want you fellows to shut this industry down and let us negotiate with the industry, the lobster dealers,” said Mood. “If you don’t, after Jan. 1 you’re going to starve to death for the next five months.”
The first few weeks of the season are when the majority of fishermen make their money during the six-month industry. Therefore it is also when, Mood said, they need a higher price.
He said shutting things down could involve staying home two or three days a week. Or it might include limiting the amount of pounds being landed.
“This ocean has been good for you until five years ago . . . The problem is you’re not getting enough money for your lobsters,” said Mood, and he said fishermen will never get a better price unless they do something about it.
The future of the industry, he said, is in the fishermen's hands.
No one in the crowd came to the microphone to speak, but they talked in clusters after the meeting was over. No one, it seemed, knows what the ultimate answer is.
Some fishermen told The Vanguard that no one should have set their pots at the start of the season until they had received a committed price from buyers. They worry that now may be too late for action if the inventories already exist for the busy Christmas and New Year's markets.
Other fishermen said they feel defeated when they come to these meetings and the turnout is low. On Facebook, fishermen said, people will complain about the status quo but the industry can’t seem to unite to agree on a solution.
Crewmembers who attended the meeting said if things continue on the same path it will be harder and harder for captains to find experienced crewmembers for their boats because people are soon going to be throwing in the towel and heading west. Some already have. They said the situation could also lead to more injury on the ocean as you see more and more younger and inexperienced crewmembers on boats.
It’s been reported that there has been a tremendous amount of lobster coming ashore and that it is this volume that is driving the price down because the supply exceeds the demand. (You can read here what one buyer had to say about this issue the evening before the fishermen were to meet.)
But 1688 feels reports of high catches are just a scare tactic being used by buyers so they can continue to justify paying a low price to fishermen. They say based on feedback they've heard from fishermen and fishing districts the catches are not at the record levels that's been reported by some buyers.
Another meeting was planned Wednesday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the parking lot of the Barrington arena. You can read a story from that meeting by clicking here.