FREDERICTON - A week-old conflict over cheap American lobster driving down lobster prices in New Brunswick came to an end Saturday when disgruntled fishermen, the government and fishing processing plants reached an agreement.
Christian Brun of the Maritime Fishermen's Union said it took the whole week to focus and reach an agreement, but a tentative deal was reached Friday night and approved by most of the fishermen early Saturday morning.
"We put aside differences and just focused all our efforts on a resolution," Brun said.
Tensions over lobster prices bubbled over last week, when fishermen in the province held demonstrations at processing plants in Cap-Pele and Shediac and trucks were blocked from delivering Maine lobsters to three processors.
Processors agreed more than a week ago to pay a minimum of $2.50 per pound for processed lobster and $3 per pound for live market lobster but the union said it wasn't enough.
Brun said after several seasons of poor prices the fishermen needed at least $4 per pound for processed and live market lobster just to break even.
Calls for financial compensation were rejected by the provincial government and the protests continued for a week before nine processing plants were granted an injunction on Thursday.
The dispute tested relations between New Brunswick and the state of Maine, where Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to raise the matter with federal Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
Protests stopped Thursday after a judge granted nine processing plants an injunction, allowing business to resume.
A deal was reached a day later.
Brun said the deal calls for processors to pay an additional 25 cents per lobster, to be matched by the union.
That will bring the price up to $3 per pound for processed lobster and $3.50 per pound for live market lobster.
Brun said the union plans to take out a loan to cover the extra expense now that the province has pledged to extend an $11-million loan program for another three years as part of the agreement.
"There is no injection of funds, no loan guarantees, nothing," he said.
"We, as a union, have gone to a bank and negotiated a loan... we borrow the money now, pay them during the season and repay it for the next three years as a loan instead of paying the province."
The union's 25 cents will come from snow crab revenues and will be capped at 15,000 pounds of lobster for each harvester, or less if the funds get used up sooner, he said.
The resolution only applies for the current fishery, which starts Monday in the Northumberland Strait and in the southern part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Note to readers: This is a corrected version. A previous story had the wrong spelling for Senator Snowe.