The unexpected flood of lobster on the market this year is great news for diners, but it’s creating a crisis in Maine and Maritime Canada that boiled over into a bitter confrontation last week in New Brunswick. Over several days, Canadian lobstermen blocked trucks carrying Maine lobster to food processing plants, out of fear that the glut of crustaceans is driving down prices so much it will destroy their livelihoods.
The action was unwarranted, and a Canadian judge issued a 10-day injunction on Thursday allowing plants to resume accepting shipments. But just getting Maine lobster into food processing factories won’t solve the underlying issue, which is the overwhelming bounty of soft-shell lobster that has been hauled up this year.
If the catch turns out to be an aberration, memories of this year’s crisis will quickly fade. But there is fear in Maine that with climate change, the warmer waters that triggered the bumper crop could become a more regular occurrence. If that happens, lobstermen are going to have to adjust to fundamental changes in the fishery.
Pitting the two nations against each other, as the Canadian lobstermen have done by targeting American imports, won’t work. Currently, most food processing facilities happen to be located on the Canadian side of the border, but it won’t take long to open American ones if the fishermen persist in blocking Maine imports.
Instead, lobstermen in both countries need to recognize they are fishing from the same ocean and work toward a common solution. That may involve more marketing of lobster products to boost demand, or organized regional measures to limit catches.
Fortunately, few industries are as well-suited for that task. Even as other North Atlantic stocks have struggled, the lobster fishery has been distinguished by its ability to police itself and abide by conservation policies. Now that the immediate crisis in New Brunswick has passed, lobstermen ought to step back and look for a common approach to safeguarding an iconic regional industry.