Thousands of lobsters thrown away at short-staffed N.B. plants

FREDERICTON -- Despite unemployment rates hovering near double-digit territory, some New Brunswick lobster plants were so short-staffed last year that thousands of pounds of lobster had to be thrown out.

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New Brunswick Fisheries Minister Rick Doucet said Wednesday he knows of one plant that had to discard about 3,000 pounds of lobster because they couldn't find enough staff to process the crustaceans.

"I'm seeing companies having to throw away product because they just don't have the manpower to process at peak times," said Doucet.

"We have companies that have been holding back on major expansion plans because they don't have the people to fill the spaces."

He said it's also disappointing to see some companies having to send lobster to neighbouring Maine to be processed.

New Brunswick has 44 active lobster processing facilities and had more than $700 million in export sales of lobster last year, but some plants are already advertising for workers. Paturel International on Deer Island, N.B., currently has a job listing seeking 85 people to be shellfish labourers. The job pays $11.25 to $13.93 per hour, based on experience and education.

But in spite of the province's struggles with unemployment and retention, Doucet said there are some jobs that Canadians won't do.

He's hoping the federal government will make more people available through the temporary foreign worker program to avoid future lobster losses.

"It is a program that has worked extremely well for the industry because a lot of the time it is seasonal employment that is needed," Doucet said.

Alex Furlong, regional director of the Canadian Labour Congress, says industries should step up their recruiting to get more Maritimers into those jobs.

"There are jobs that are available and Maritimers certainly could avail of those so I think it's incumbent on any industry to actively recruit those workers in a progressive way with enhanced wages and benefits," Furlong said, calling the temporary foreign worker idea a temporary fix.

But Doucet argues that many people still wouldn't take the jobs even with another $5 or $10 dollars an hour.

In January, New Brunswick's jobless rate was 9.3 per cent, while it was 8.5 per cent in Nova Scotia and 9.5 per cent in Prince Edward Island.

During his recent state of the province address, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant noted that there were more than 2,800 jobs waiting to be filled in New Brunswick. He has stressed education as a means to prepare people for the available jobs.

But Ian MacPherson of the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association says filling seasonal jobs will always be difficult, especially when the fishing, agriculture and tourism industries are all looking for people at the same time.

The lobster industry on the Island has been having a difficult time in recent years finding enough people to work on the deck of the boats each season.

MacPherson said 65 per cent of the boat captains in the province are now over the age of 50, and one-third of the captains started out in summer jobs on deck.

He said it's hoped that a new training program through Holland College -- that includes actual time on a lobster boat -- will be enough to attract new recruits.

"We hope to show that not only is it a decent summer job, but at the end of the day it may be something that turns into a career," he said.


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