In a room filled with concerned fishermen in Grand Falls-Windsor, their union laid out the grim news.
According to Fish, Food and Allied Workers-Unifor (FFAW-Unifor) president Keith Sullivan, based on information presented by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in recent meetings, fish harvesters could face snow crab quota cuts of up to 30 per cent in 3K. That’s the fishing zone that runs from the south coast of Labrador to Bonavista Bay and encompasses five sub-sections – 3A, 3BC, 3D, 3B and 3C.
The bargaining agent for harvesters is arguing the science brought forward by DFO doesn’t justify cuts. Instead, FFAW-Unifor is advocating to maintain the same quotas as last year.
“People saw a good fishery last year. Some would have considered it stable or could possibly even see an increase,” Sullivan said on Wednesday, March 13.
“Then DFO comes and says a 30 per cent cut, no wonder people are confused, upset, and looking for answers.”
Last year, Sullivan said, crab landings were in the vicinity of 27,000 tonnes.
“You talk 30 per cent on a grand scale, it’s problems for an economy,” he said. “To an individual harvester, it’s 30 per cent cut in income. It’s (also) hours plant workers won’t get, and spinoff business also suffers.”
Quota reductions haven’t been officially announced.
“There are still a lot of pieces of the puzzle that need to fall in place,” Sullivan said. “It’ll depends on all the areas collective.”
The only thing to soften the blow of cuts is the current price of snow crab.
The minimum price last year reached $4.90 per pound, and Sullivan said prices are looking good again this year.
“The markets still look solid, so it’s good to see they are looking again this year,” he said.
Beyond the fishery, 3K crab is processed throughout Newfoundland and Labrador fish plants.
Cuts to landings would make an already difficult situation worse for plant workers, said Sullivan.
“They are after already having difficult years, reduced hours and reduced weeks,” he said. “They are feeling the strain and further cuts would be devastating.”
FFAW-Unifor plans to ramp up objection to potential snow crab quota cuts with a protest in St. John’s on March 20.
Impact on harvesters
The Central Voice asked 3K harvesters what kind of impact a 30 per cent cut to crab quotas would mean for them.
If we’re cut 30 per cent, I’m down a lot of money. Thirty per cent from 133,000 pounds, that’s what I have for my boat, so it’s a big loss. My original quota is 77,000 pounds, but I bought two more quotas, two years ago, to get enough crab to keep my enterprise going. I’ve invested about $700,000 into this, and for DFO to come out and suggest a 25 to 30 per cent cut is devastating for me … and for my crew members. If DFO keeps this up we’re out of business.
It would be a major loss. For me a 25 to 30 per cent cut would mean a 20 per cent reduction in my enterprise overall, and it makes it a lot more difficult to maintain a crew, vessel and gear.
I have five (crew members), I don’t know how you’ll maintain a crew, unless there’s some other fishery that works as a bonus to you, which is wishful thinking.
But that is not the only reason we are fighting these cuts. We see it as unjustified by (DFO) science’s own report. We are trying to be good stewards, and in past years we have taken cuts. Other years it was justified, but this year it isn’t.
What we have now is the bare minimum, as a deckhand, it would mean getting out. You’re looking at losing close to a third of your crab income.
The fishery is the major supporter of rural Newfoundland and Labrador communities, and if the fishery can’t support its young people they will leave. I’m 30 years old, the next one to me is 55 years old, three are getting their Canada Pension.
How can rural communities survive if cuts like this keep happening?
It depends on the cut. If it’s severe, like they are suggesting, it’s devastation.
Where we had major drawbacks in cod, capelin and mackerel, crab cuts could push it to the point of collapse for harvesters.
In 3B (fishing area) we have about 9,300 pounds per license holder. You take close to a third of that away and you’ll probably lose a crew member, because the income isn’t there.
You take a 20 per cent cut, a 10 per cent cut, like we have faced over the years, then all of a sudden a 30 per cent cut, and then ask a business owner how they can survive with cuts like that.
In a lot of cases the doors are locked, the shades pulled down and they are gone off working somewhere else.
We don’t have a big quota as it is. We have 5,530 pounds on a license, 30 per cent from that doesn’t leave you with very much. We have more than once license, which is still not very good, because it just means you’re losing more.
My husband and myself fish the quota, and we hired my nephew this year, but if we don’t have the quota, the bottom line is we aren’t making money.
The main source of income for my area is crab, and . . . for people with one quota, they won’t be able to continue on in the fishery, because it just won’t be worth it to keep going.