WIth the Department of Fisheries and Oceans estimating 96 per cent of this year's total allowable catch (TAC) of crab being landed and fisherman in this area reporting a good year on the water, it would appear the 2012 snow crab season was a lively and productive one.
"It was good crab-wise and the price was alright, we had a good year," reports Albert Johnson, a Catalina-based crab fisherman who holds a supplementary crab license and took all of the 117,000 pound quota he was allotted.
"We got our crab fairly fast and it was the thickest I've seen the crab mid-shore in years; it was looking real good," he said.
That 96 per cent, as estimated by DFO, represents 542,242 tons of crab out a TAC of 564,835 tons, but the final number won't be finalized for a few months.
Johnson, who leads a crew of five others on his 50-foot vessel, even said recruitment - the term used to determine the amount of juvenile crab in a given area - appears to be on the upswing, following uncertainty in previous years.
"Two or three years ago, the department was concerned, they had a problem with no recruitment happening mid-shore, but that changed last year."
Overall, Johnson is optimistic about the immediate future of the crab in his area."
As far as 3L is concerned, the future is looking good regarding the crab stocks.
Except for one area, up in 8BX South (where I noticed soft-shell crab.) I think it's an isolated incident; Crab don't swim, they crawl and that's an area far away."
The 3L fishing zone encompasses the area from Cape Freels in the north to about 100 km south of the Burin Peninsula in the south, then roughly 400 km east of those markers.
The area also takes in part of the Grand Bank.While that area appears be to in good shape, Johnson said other zones are giving harvesters and scientists cause for concern.
"Down in 3K (The north shore of Newfoundland up to Battle Harbor in Labrador and about 600 km east), they're having a problem with soft shell crab. That's down in deeper water, but they're saying the deep water is warm; up this way where we fish, it appears to be colder water."
Johnson explains that shellfish thrive in colder waters and groundfish often perform well in warmer waters. Warmer waters mean more shellfish predators thriving and vice versa in colder waters.
As DFO explains, gradually changing ocean temperatures can account for some of what is happening to crab in 3K, but not all.
It seems like it's starting to warm up now, and as the water warms the cod move back in. That's good for cod but not for crab. - Crab fisherman Larry Tremblett on the status of the species
"We don't have any hard numbers of catch rates yet, but areas where they took a quota cut were most significant in 2J (Southeastern shore of Labrador)," said Darrell Mullowney, stock assessment biologist for snow crab with DFO.
"We're thinking a large part of the equation is warming temperatures, but we don't think that's the primary reason. A warming ocean means less snow crab, so we're thinking what has been a warming phase for the past decade or so is starting to come to roost in the northern areas."
We're never fully positive on much, but this is consistent with what we see on the production of crab."The evidence suggests those stocks have fallen into decline.
Should that trend continue, it's only a matter of time before other areas begin to feel the pinch, says Mullowney.
"Our survey trends gave us indications the stock was in decline in the northern areas. Likely there is to be delay, we do see warming waters across the most of the Newfoundland and Labrador continental shelf, so it is likely it will go in decline as temperatures warm further."
Again, the answers and reasons for the warming are not so concrete.
"I'm not quite clear on the global warming, this is attributed to natural variations in the environment. There have been known ups and downs in ocean temperature. If it is more likely just natural variations, the effects of global warming would compound what we are seeing. Global warming is yet to come," suggested Mullowney.
In terms of how that may affect the scaling back of quotas down the road, Mullowney explains, "Quotas are generally a management tool that comes in response to biomass indicators. So if the indicators are going down then, yes, quotas would follow suit."
We'll have to wait until the fall to see the biomass estimates."Bonavista inshore crab fisherman Larry Tremblett echoed Johnson's earlier statements about the things in his area looking good, but also expressed concern for what's happening in 2J and 3K.
"Right now, we are pretty good down this way, but up in 3K, they are really being hit hard with their crab stocks. My worry now, is it going to continue going this way?
"It seems like it's starting to warm up now, and as the water warms the cod move back in. That's good for cod but not for crab."