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Fishermen Say Canada-EU Trade Deal Would Hurt Maine’s Lobster Industry

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press file
A sternman holds a lobster caught off South Bristol.

Some Maine fishermen say that they’ve always been at a disadvantage when trying to compete with their Canadian counterparts. Now, the Maine lobster industry is weighing a pending trade agreement between Canada and the European Union that could adversely affect lobster prices in Maine.

It’s been a touchy subject Down East for years.

“Canada has always put the screws to the United States fisherman — they don’t have the regulations that we do,” says Colby Young, a recently retired lobster fisherman from Corea.

Young says that the pending trade deal between Canada and the European Union is the latest example of a marketing system that has given Canadian fishermen an edge.

Known as the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, the new partnership would remove the 8 percent tariff on live lobsters for Canada, but the fee would remain on for the United States. With the added advantage of a current exchange rate that makes the Canadian dollar worth about 75 cents American, the Canadian lobster should be attractive to the European market.

Young says Maine lobster fishermen should keep a close eye on what happens.

“Of course, they should, all your regulations — I don’t care what it is, the Canadians always have the advantage over the American fishermen,” he says.

“It’s always a concern when you fear you’re going to lose a little bit of your advantage in the marketplace,” says Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

McCarron says she can understand why fishermen are asking questions about the CETA deal. But she says the market for lobsters around the world continues to experience tremendous growth at a time when Maine lobster landings are increasing.

But McCarron acknowledges that the industry cannot ignore the implications of international trade agreements.

“We have to be cautious and we have to really be paying attention as more of these trade deals go through,” she says.

Jeff Bennett, who analyzes seafood trade markets at the Maine International Trade Center, says that while Maine’s lobster sales to China have tripled in recent years, the value of the EU market is still important.

“It’s only been recently that China, at least for Maine seafood and Maine lobster, has surpassed the EU in terms of a market, but the EU is not that far behind and it still represents a huge market for Maine seafood and Maine lobster,” he says.

Industry watchers say the new CETA agreement could be in place by early summer.