Price Wars and Greed
by Thea Atkinson
It’s very nearly the end of lobster season here in Nova Scotia and I wanted to post about before it ended because some very interesting things happened this season. The biggest? The fishermen in District 34 went on strike–something only accomplished once before in its history that I know of. Most of you know I’m a lobster fisherman’s wife. I met my husband when he and his family lived in a shanty during the fishing season on a remote Tusket island back in the 80s. Back then, he stayed on the island from Sunday to Friday for the months of December and January, and then again from March to May. Often, the weather was too fierce during January and February to sail to the island or to stay there and be at the mercy of insulation made of eelgrass or an outhouse at the head of a wharf.
Recently, there has been much discussion and angst over the price of lobster in our area: the fishermen (who hold our local regional economy together and supply much of the world’s lobster) are vying for a higher price; buyers are sticking to their guns and giving some of the lowest prices per pound in years.
Let me break it down for you:
- It costs the average fisherman $3 a pound to fish his grounds, and due to increasing fuel costs, that number is growing. Btw: that figure doesn’t include salaries.
- The buyers were offering an average of $3.25 a pound.
(note: the price settled after the strike at $5 a pound…about .50 less than what fishermen were asking for, but still a far sight better than it was at the opening of the season.)
At the height of the season: those first 2 weeks when the market has its highest demand, and when in the past, lobster went for an average of $5.50 per pound, our economy was able to keep our area going. Buyers made money. Fishermen made money. Fish plant workers made money. The local stores made money. Restaurants made money. Car lots made money.
Get the point?
So you say, “So? They’re making .25 per pound. That must surely be nothing to quibble about. It’s about time the lobstermen stopped complaining and stopped being so greedy.”
You’re right; some fishermen are greedy (so are some bankers, some lawyers, some used car salesmen).
The year my husband had to stop fishing after nearly 25 years, he nearly went overboard. The weather was incredibly, consistently, bad. He stabbed himself in the nerve sheath of his wrist when a rogue wave knocked the boat as he was trying to cut loose a snarl in the rope. He tore a healing tendon hauling on a snarled trawl. He wore arm bands on both arms to help manage the tendonitis he suffered from pinching open traps and banding lobsters. X-rays showed he has two compressed discs in his back from the rigor of hauling 100 pound traps all day. He was icing his swollen knees each night from the bob and weave of sea-legging. He would rise at 3:15 am and arrive home around 6 pm if everything went well.
Most fishermen, if they are in the stern, work enough to break down 2 men’s bodies in the course of their career. The stern is back-breaking, leg-twisting, life threatening work here in District 34.
About four years ago, our next door neighbour got knocked over on dumping day. He managed to get hauled back into the boat despite his boots filling with frigid water and having a hard time moving to swim. He, like most fishermen these parts, breathed a sigh of relief when he was drug back aboard, and thanked God for the quickness of his crewmates. Then he changed his clothes for dry ones. Then he went on fishing.
Would you be able to go merrily about your workday if you came close enough to the afterlife that you could smell the mothballs on Death’s cloak?
I’m not trying to convince you that it’s a smaller version of “The Deadliest Catch”; I’m trying to tell you what I think of this whole affair, this whole area-wide controversy that fishermen are just greedy men who want a price the buyers and market can’t support.
I’m sick of hearing folks who do not really, really know a fisherman’s life, argue that want of a higher price is driven by greed.
I just want to hear someone say they can respect the work these men do.
I support a price that benefits all in the little tangled web of the lobster price structure. Yes, I said that supports ALL: that includes my little corner of the world where my daughter can have part-time work in a retail store because people in the area actually have some spare money to buy a nice thing now and then. That includes your corner of the world where you can eat out in a restaurant once in a while because a fisherman’s dollar is helping to keep that outlet open. It includes the electrician who can live in his/her heritage village and work because a fisherman is building a new shed, or a car salesman who can feed his family because a fisherman needs a new truck. Where a buyer can employ fishplant workers, drivers, and wharf loaders.
Whatever you think of whatever side of the controversy you’re on, please realize that not all fishermen are greedy. Some are hired hands. Some are part owners. Some are even women with a hardy taste for the sea.
And some just want to feed their families, pay their bills, and send their kids to school.
You don’t see much in the way of Youtube video of the real fishing times: those in the height of the season, when it’s the most dangerous. You see the videos from the spring: the end of May because that’s the time they can show what they do without worrying about watching every wave that moves. You don’t see many videos from the depths of winter, myboyoh.
But you do see a few that hint at what it’s like.
Don’t forget the Haystack giveaway. You can win a $50 Amazon Card.
If you liked this post, please do share.
- Nova Scotia fishermen strike over price of lobsters (macleans.ca)
- Lobster fishermen divided over price protest (cbc.ca)