Crab harvester Jeff Newell says Bonavista Bay fishers have taken dramatic quota cuts in the past with the idea that they could take a large reduction for a year to ensure they wouldn’t have more in future seasons, essentially “sucking up” the loss.
But no more, says Newell.
Bonavista Peninsula fish harvesters, like Newell, converged for a meeting last week with growing concerns related to expected crab quota cuts for the fourth consecutive year.
After a fish harvesters meeting with FFAW-Unifor in Bonavista on Tuesday, March 26, concerned fishermen quickly arranged a meeting with their Member of Parliament, Churence Rogers of Bonavista-Burin-Trinity, for the following day in Princeton.
A large majority of local harvesters attended the meeting at the local fire hall as they expressed their concerns and asked Rogers to lobby for them. There were also individuals from the business community and the processing and offloading sectors in attendance.
Newell, who is an inshore fisherman in Bonavista Bay, from Summerville, is only 42 years-old—one of the younger fish harvesters in the profession. He contacted Rogers and set up the meeting.
Newell told The Packet he’s not pleased with the working relationship with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) when it comes to setting quotas.
“We had a good working relationship with DFO years ago,” he says.
“You’d go in and sit down, talk back and forth, they’d give you the science and the fishermen would tell them what we’ve seen on our side of it. At the end of the day you’d have a good idea of where the quote would be set.”
He says, lately, while there are still committees for consultation on the quotas, the input of harvesters isn’t taken into account. As a result, Newell says there was quite a bit of frustration at the end of the FFAW meeting.
"They’re setting quotas and affecting people’s livelihoods comparing numbers from today to years ago." — Jeff Newell
Newell is also not convinced of the accuracy of some of the scientific data they’re being presented related to stocks.
“They’re setting quotas and affecting people’s livelihoods comparing numbers from today to years ago and you can’t base the facts on it, because for sure, their scientific data was inconclusive at the time.”
When asked for potential solutions to ensuring the scientific figures accurately reflect what should be done regarding quotas for crab, Newell would like to see logbook comments taken into greater consideration.
He says these notes can help clarify particular situations which differentiate between crab pots that were hauled versus traps that actually fished. Newell says numbers can be skewed if they don’t take into account environmental effects like ice or wind on the harvesting period.
Regarding expected cuts again this season, Newell says they’ve conceded to quota cuts in the past when they could see the need for doing so.
In past years, Newell says Bonavista Bay fishermen always erred on the side of caution and came to accept quota cuts in an effort to do what was best upon DFO’s recommendation.
However, he says last year was one of the best years they’ve had for crab in quite a while.
“I started fishing in April, I fished in May and up until June. Even in June our catch rates were still pretty good—no sign of soft-shell crab and the stock was still healthy.
“And now to come out this year with another 30 per cent cut? It’s unwarranted. As far as I’m concerned, our stock this year should just be a rollover of last year’s quota.”
As far as the result of the meeting with Rogers, Newell says they were very pleased with the turnout and discussion.
Rogers agreed to relay their frustrations with the federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Jonathan Wilkinson.
Talks even turned to the condition of the cod fishery, with harvesters adding their thoughts on the future of that fishery.
Turning back to crab, Newell says if they actually thought the stocks were so bad they needed another large cut on top of last year’s, they would relent.
“But that just ain’t going to fly with our fleet this year.”