A coalition of lobster buyers in southwestern Nova Scotia are seeking to elevate the industry on multiple fronts at both the provincial and federal level.

The coalition is “working on two fronts,” says coalition spokesperson Robert Thibault, a former federal fisheries minister from Digby County.

“In both cases the intent is to elevate the industry… to ensure it’s operating at peak performance and standards. What we have in Nova Scotia is a very international business that’s very important to the province and critical to the local economy here,” Thibault says, “so with the province what we’re looking at is if someone wants to come into the business as a buyer or a broker, is there some criteria they have to meet? And for those already in the business, is there a standard they should be maintaining?”

Thibault says what the coalition is concerned with “is operators within the industry that are operating illicitly and buying illegal lobsters.”

Thibault says the coalition is at the dialogue process, and have had discussions with the provincial minister, senior bureaucrats, as well as other buyers.

“It’s a slow process, but it’s advancing well,” Thibault says. “The coalition is looking forward to engaging with the harvesting section to get their points of view and make sure their needs are being met, in terms of continued or even increased competition. That always helps in maintaining price to the harvesters.”

At the federal level, the coalition is exploring how the age-old practice of lobster buyers and dealers providing financial capital to new entrants in the fishery in return for repayment and access to supply can be continued and refined so as not to be in contravention of the Preserving the Independence of the Inshore Fleet in Canada’s Atlantic Fisheries (PIIFCAF).

“We’re recognizing and not contesting or arguing the minister’s policy of independence in the harvesting sector,” Thibault says. “We support that. What we’re looking at is the reality of what has happened over time. Since the existence of the industry, the buying sector has always been lending money to young people and people wanting to get into industry with the understanding the buyer would have access to that supply at least until the loans are repaid, and that has worked well overtime.

“The minister wants to make sure there’s independence, that there are no controlling or trust agreements. So, what we’re trying to do is find a way to meet the policy of the minister and the needs of the young harvesters and the needs of processing and buying sector and what we are suggesting is have buyers recognized the same way as financial institutions.”

Thibault says that way the buyers could lend money to a person and “the licence would be recognized by the minister for transfer like a mortgage situation, as it is with the financial institutions now.”

Thibault says the key to this approach is there would be no controlling agreement.

“Essentially, we’re trying to open dialogue,” he says.

The coalition has met with some federal government representatives and plan to meet with others to get the discussion going.

“We don’t have a firm proposal,” Thibault says. “We have principles we’re advancing. The other thing we’re recognizing is that all of Atlantic Canada isn’t in the same situation as southwestern Nova Scotia.”

Thibault says the coalition is also suggesting special management zones could be created that could have those types of arrangements, be it in southwestern Nova Scotia or any other place in Atlantic Canada where desired.

As it is, financial arrangements between buyers and harvesters can and do exist, and are not contrary to PIIFCAF.

“You can do elements of that now, but you can’t tie it all together. So, this would be like it is with financial institutions,” Thibault says.

Thibault says the coalition also wants to talk to the harvesting sector to get their input and “see if we can advance the industry for everybody. Everybody wins if we do a good job.”