FREDERICTON, New Brunswick — Maine lobster flowed back into Canada on Friday, one day after a judge ordered protesters to stop blocking access to processing facilities.

A handful of processors in eastern New Brunswick confirmed they had reopened and were accepting lobster from Maine.

Meanwhile, some of the Canadian lobstermen who have protested the low price they are being offered for their catch met Friday with New Brunswick Premier David Alward. A spokeswoman for the minister said they discussed industry-led resolutions and strategies aimed at preventing similar disputes in the future, but she declined to release further details.

In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage’s administration convened Friday with two of Maine’s biggest lobster processors to discuss long-term solutions to the oversupply of the local crustaceans. An administration official described it as a “fact-finding mission.”

Thursday’s court action in Canada — which set restrictions on anyone demonstrating at New Brunswick processors for 10 days — was good news for the Maine lobster industry, which has been reeling all season by a flood of too much product into the market. The glut of Maine lobsters has driven the dockside prices that lobstermen receive to 30-year lows of $2 to $2.50 a pound. More than half of all lobsters caught in Maine go to Canada for processing, and bordering New Brunswick has the most processors by far.

But the problem on the Canadian side is complex. It has divided fishermen and processors, who have always had a give-and-take relationship, but it also has caused tension among the fishermen themselves.

Jeff Parsons, who is on the executive board of the Maritime Fisheries Union, said the protests have been orchestrated by a small but loud group of frustrated lobstermen in southeastern New Brunswick.

“I’m a reasonable guy, and I want to work on a solution,” he said. “For some guys, though, they see only what they want to see.”

Over the last couple of days, as New Brunswick processors have been idle, there has been unease about whether the protests will put a strain on the relationship between Maine and Canada when it comes to lobster. Alward stressed that Maine is an integral partner in the lobster industry, but LePage and others already have begun talking about increasing processing capacity in Maine.

In Augusta, the situation prompted LePage to renew his commitment to build more processing plants in Maine. But before that happens, the administration said the state needs to ramp up demand for Maine lobsters.

Patrick Keliher, the commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources, said after Friday’s meeting with processors that promoting the Maine lobster brand is necessary if local processing plants are going to be financially viable.

“I want to stress that this is just the beginning of a fact-finding mission,” said Kehiler, who hinted that policy changes may be forthcoming to help increase demand.

Linda Bean, heiress to the L.L. Bean family and a LePage supporter, was one of two of the processors who met with the governor. She said the state should invest in marketing efforts and work harder to make sure customers can tell the difference between Maine lobsters and those from elsewhere. She said certification would boost demand in other regions.

Bean also floated the idea of placing an additional tax on Canadian lobsters, which she said could be sold for less because the Canadian industry receives government subsidies. Bean’s tariff proposal appears to face long odds given that the North American Free Trade Agreement stipulates that Canadian products are duty-free. However, Bean hoped that Maine’s congressional delegation would consider advancing the tariff idea.

LePage declined to address reporters after the confab, which was held inside the governor’s cabinet room. However, the governor in his weekly radio address will say Saturday that the Canadian situation “is all about money.”

The administration lifted its typical embargo of the Saturday address. In it, the governor plans to highlight Maine’s dependence on Canadian processors, which take up to 70 percent of the local catch.

“Processors are paying only a fraction of the true cost due to the abundance of lobster and lack of processing capacity here in Maine,” the address reads.

The state currently has three major processors. LePage said there isn’t more because of the state’s “high cost of doing business,” which he said is due to the state’s high energy prices and environmental regulations.

“Getting our lobsters delivered and processed in Canada helps in the short-term, but Maine needs a permanent solution,” he says in the address. “We need more processing capacity. After all, the Maine lobster is world renown. We must be in a position to add value to our product instead of Canada gaining all the added value.”

Meanwhile, Keliher reported that the 10-day injunction in Canada appeared to be working. He said he hoped tensions would subside as New Brunswick fishermen resume fishing next week.

Keliher said the injunction came just in time. Another two days, he said, and the Maine catch could have been sitting on docks to rot.

 

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

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