FREDERICTON - New Brunswick Premier David Alward says he hopes a 10-day court-ordered injunction to prevent fishermen from blocking processing plants will help resolve a simmering dispute over the import of U.S. lobsters.
"It's my expectation, my hope, that the processors will be able to in an orderly fashion continue to process lobster so that it ultimately can create prosperity here in New Brunswick and in our whole region," Alward said Thursday in an interview.
"We need to resolve this through dialogue ultimately, and not through some of the antics that the fishermen were trying to use earlier."
The order is the latest twist in a dispute over lobster prices that came to a head last week, when fishermen held demonstrations in Cap-Pele, N.B., and Shediac, N.B., and trucks were blocked from delivering Maine lobsters to three processors.
Last Friday, lobster processors in the province agreed to pay a minimum of $2.50 per pound for processed lobster and $3 per pound for live market lobster. But the Maritime Fishermen's Union has said New Brunswick fishermen need $4 per pound for both fresh and processed lobster just to break even.
The union did not return messages Thursday seeking comment.
Alward acknowledged that the dispute has tested relations between his province and the state of Maine, where Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe has called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to raise the matter with federal Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
"It is certainly not making it any easier and I think that is clear," Alward said.
He added that about 60 per cent of New Brunswick's lobster processing industry comes from other jurisdictions, and in turn, the province exports about 85 per cent of that lobster to the U.S.
"So, it's very integrated," he said. "And the ability for our processors to continue to be able to process that lobster, whether it's from Maine, whether it's from New Brunswick, is very important — not only ultimately to the processors, but to the whole industry including the fishermen."
The provincial government has dismissed a request for compensation, saying it had no interest in "bridging gaps in salaries" and would set a bad precedent. Instead, it has offered to extend a loan program, but the union has rejected that.
The lobster season was scheduled to open Thursday in the Northumberland Strait in the southern part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but the federal government delayed that until Monday at the request of the fishermen.
Officials with the union are expected to meet with federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield on Friday.
— By Jane Gerster in Halifax.