Dave Decker calls it a potential “crisis of enormous proportions.”
The secretary-treasurer of the Fish Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union, which represents fishers and plant workers in this province, says if the scientific assessment is correct and the shrimp biomass on the province’s north east coast have declined by almost half, it could have serious ripple effects for harvesters, plant workers and the economy in general.
Earlier today, the FFAW urged the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to call an immediate halt to shrimp fishing in management area 6. That area bounds the Northern Peninsula and the coast of Labrador.
The call comes after meetings with DFO scientists last week to review the draft Stock Status Assessment reports on shrimp.
The final reports have not been completed, but are expected to be made public as early as this week.
However, fish processor Danny Dumaresque, tweeted today that according to preliminary information from DFO, the shrimp biomass in area 6 is down by about 40 per cent.
The union is bracing for quota cuts.
And if cuts are to come, says Decker, inshore fishermen — the people in the 60-65 ft. longliners — should not have to bear the brunt.
He says it will be time for the factory freezer trawlers (FFTs) to take their share of hurt, because the inshore fleet has already taken the hits.
“The bottom line is that in 2009 the inshore (fleets) had 131 million pounds of shrimp in Area 6, and the offshore had 37 million pounds.”
The 131 million pounds fed 13 shrimp processing plants, ensuring work for the folks on the processing lines in those plants.
By 2015, he says, the quota for the inshore fleet had been reduced to 69 million pounds.
The landed value of that shrimp last year was $146.2 million, according to information from the DFO website on landings and landed values per species.
“We were down to 10 plants last year, and in each of these plants, people were going home with a lot less work,” said Decker.
Meanwhile, he said, the offshore fleet — boats that catch and process the shrimp at sea — lost just seven million pounds of quota; going from 37 million to 30 million metric tonnes.
The union’s worry if that if shrimp quotas have to take another cut, and the federal government uses the same percentages to determine quotas, the factor freezer fleet would lose just five million pounds while the inshore would move from 69 million pounds to 13 million pounds.
“Eight plants would have to shut their doors immediately,” he told The Packet.
“I can’t stress enough how serious this could be. It’s the potential for a couple hundred million dollars to disappear from our economy,” said Decker.
That’s why the union has asked the federal government to call a halt to shrimp fishing in area 6 right away, to give everyone time to assess the reality and determine how to manage it.
“Right now, as we speak, there are six boats (FFTs) fishing off St. Anthony, just hammering away on that resource.
“If you are in crisis, you just can’t continue on that way.”
Decker said FFAW president Keith Sullivan is in Ottawa today, where he will be meeting with MP Judy Foote.
He says over the past few weeks the union has met with the federal fisheries minister, Tootoo, and will be following up with all MPs from Newfoundland and Labrador on this matter.
Decker worries that if this situation is not addressed immediately, and the right decisions are not made, the ripple effect on this province’s economy will be drastic.
“There’s a huge amount of investment in the shrimp fishery. We’ve got about 250-280 shrimp fishing enterprises in this province right now, depending on fishing crab and shrimp to make this work.”
According to Decker, about 14-1,500 people work on the decks of these inshore boats.
Then there are about 1,500 processing plant jobs connected to the shrimp fishery and depending on the catches for their livelihood.
“I started working with the union in 1991, just as the northern cod stocks collapsed,” he noted, adding he would hate to see that scenario played out again.
He’s hoping it can be prevented, with proper decision-making.
“There’s no reason why our communities should have to go through that again.”
We will have more on this story in the days to come.