In the book Cod, published in 1997, author Mark Kurlansky wrote that with the collapse of the Atlantic Canada cod fishery, other species moved in. One was arctic cod that eat Atlantic cod eggs and larvae. “The other two,” Kurlansky wrote, “snow crab and shrimp, have been very profitable.”
What a difference 13 years make.
In April the Newfoundland/Labrador snow crab season was nearly canceled because of a dispute over the price being offered to fishermen.
Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick fishermen felt the impact of a 63 percent decrease in the total allowable catch (TAC) of snow crab in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Although the price has been good, it did not make up for the decline in quota for fishermen, according to Ed Frenette, executive director of the Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association.
The season for the snow crab fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador ranges from May 1 through August 30, depending on the fishing area. In the southern Gulf, the season for all areas is April 16 through July 18.
In March, the Standing Fish Price Setting Panel of Newfoundland and Labrador set a price of $1.35 per pound. At first, most processors refused to accept the price and asked the panel to reconsider and set a lower price, reportedly as low as $1.19. Fishermen indicated that if the panel caved, they would tie up. The panel stuck to its guns, however, and the season began at the end of April. Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) said at the time that he was relieved by the panel’s decision. But he told the CBC News he wasn’t about to break out the champagne. He cautioned that the fishery “is still on fairly thin ice.” McCurry called the $1.35 price “marginal at best.” He added that it wasn’t a win for fishermen and added, “At best it’s a survival price to get through this year and live to fight another day.” On June 10, McCurdy said, “The crab market has held pretty firm, with over half the crab ashore now.” As many as many as 20,000 people depend on the crab fishery for at least part of their annual income, he said.
In one fishing area of the southern Gulf, the crab season was over quickly due to the reduction. “Experienced fishermen landed their individual quotas within just a few days,” Frenette said. Prices ranged from $1.85 to $2.25, up about 40 cents per pound from 2009, he said.
Frenette said calls to follow recommendations from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans implement a gradual decrease in quota to match the cyclical decrease in snow crabs were opposed by representatives of the permanent fleet. “They were advised that eventually the wall would be hit. That happened this year.”
Frenette said there are two sectors active in the Gulf of St. Lawrence snow crab fishery—the permanent fleet, with 150 mid-shore vessels and a new access fleet composed of inshore organizations such as the PEIFA. The new access fleet is allocated 15 percent of TAC. In addition, First Nations fishermen receive another 15 percent of the TAC. The permanent fleet is provided the remaining 70 percent.
Fishermen in New Brunswick asked provincial fisheries Minister Rick Doucet to seek help from the federal government. Doucet in turn called on Ottawa to provide financial assistance and also to overhaul the Fisheries Act.
On May 28, Doucet testified before the federal Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. “Stability in the industry starts with stability in access and allocations. We feel this can be best achieved through modernizing the federal Fisheries Act,” he said. “It is time to take politics out of the equation and start focusing on sustainability and viability.” Doucette emphasized the need for the federal government to recognize and accept responsibility for the impact of a 63 per cent reduction in the snow crab quota. “The reduction meant losses of about $170 million to the provincial economy and has affected thousands of workers,” he said, about the impact to New Brunswick.
Doucet said that the provincial government has always supported quota setting based on scientific evidence. “Currently, there are too many boats for the amount of snow crab in the southern gulf, so we have asked for financial assistance to rationalize the harvesting sector,” Doucet said. %u2028
The impact of the snow crab fishery on Prince Edward Island varies based on quota and price.” For PEI alone, landed value in 2007 was $16.7 million, while with serious quota reductions we can expect revenue for 2010 to be around the $8-million mark—a drastic reduction in fishers’ income,” said Frenette.
Bob Gustafson is a freelance writer who lives in Eastport.