Snow crab biomass un­changed: DFO

Union hope­ful no ma­jor quota cuts com­ing this year

Advertiser (Grand Falls) - - News - BY GLEN WHIFFEN glen.whiffen@thetele­gram.com

ST. JOHN’S, NL – Snow crab stocks off New­found­land and Labrador re­main at low lev­els go­ing into this spring’s fish­ery, and while that may re­sult in sta­tus quo or lower quo­tas, there is op­ti­mism for com­ing years.

The op­ti­mism may only hold true if mea­sures are taken to fur­ther pro­tect an ap­par­ent in­crease in small and medi­um­sized crab be­ing seen in most ar­eas of the prov­ince.

A tech­ni­cal brief­ing held by the De­part­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans (DFO) Feb. 26 in St. John’s showed that while the snow crab biomass re­mains rel­a­tively un­changed from last year, more favourable wa­ter tem­per­a­tures for crab have re­sulted in bet­ter pro­duc­tion in the last cou­ple of years.

In­stead of what many pre­dicted would be doom and gloom this spring in the crab fish­ery, sci­en­tist Darrell Mul­lowney re­vealed some hope for the stocks and, in turn, the fish­ery in fu­ture years.

“Trawl and trap sur­veys tell us that the over­all ex­ploitable biomass (the amount of crab of fish­able size) has re­mained at its low­est ob­served level in the past two years,” Mul­lowney told mem­bers of the me­dia. “Low ex­ploitable biomass is con­cern­ing, as it could po­ten­tially el­e­vate the im­pacts of fish­ing on present and fu­ture stocks.

“There ap­pears to be more small and mid-sized crab in the wa­ter than we’ve seen for a few years, so look­ing be­yond 2018 seems to be the most op­ti­mistic part of it. The mes­sage we are try­ing to re­lay this year is that we are con­cerned about low biomass al­low­ing the pre­re­cruits — which will come in as soft-shell crab Year 1 into the fish­ery — to trap read­ily and be har­vested, dis­carded and likely killed in the process. There is con­cern that what hap­pens in 2018 could di­min­ish any po­ten­tial gains there­after.”

Land­ings in the prov­ince’s snow crab fish­ery peaked at 53,500 tonnes in 2009 and grad­u­ally de­clined to 34,000 tonnes in 2017 — their low­est level in two decades.

This year’s to­tal al­low­able catch (TAC) and any other man­age­ment mea­sures will be set by DFO fol­low­ing in­dus­try con­sul­ta­tions through­out the prov­ince be­gin­ning on March 6, and con­sid­er­a­tion of sci­en­tific ad­vice.

Mul­lowney noted the two main ar­eas of con­cern in the prov­ince is off the east coast of the is­land in di­vi­sion 3L — par­tic­u­larly in wa­ters around the Avalon Penin­sula — and on the west coast.

In in­shore 3L, he noted, the ex­ploitable biomass in­dex has de­clined 73 per cent since 2012, while over­all re­cruit­ment has steadily de­clined for the past three years. Di­vi­sion 3L is where the ma­jor­ity of crab fish­ing ac­tiv­ity takes place.

“Those are ar­eas where it seems the har­vest rates will be quite high in the forth­com­ing year with­out some man­age­ment ac­tions,” Mul­lowney said. “High fish­ing pres­sure may im­pact the fish­ery be­yond 2018 if the recruits are cap­tured as by­catch and dis­carded at a high level in 2018.”

Mul­lowney also noted that while warmer ocean tem­per­a­tures a few years ago aided the re­build­ing of ground­fish stocks, a re­turn to cooler ocean con­di­tions in all snow crab di­vi­sions in re­cent years is pos­i­tive for the snow crab stock. Snow crab do well in wa­ters be­low 2 C, he noted.

“The warm­est con­di­tions were es­sen­tially dur­ing the 2010, 2011 and 2012 pe­riod that would have helped ground­fish re­cover and con­versely led to a de­cline in the pro­duc­tiv­ity of the shell­fish,” he said. “Since then, most years we’ve been above nor­mal in terms of it be­ing warm, but it hasn’t been to the ex­tremes it was at that point.

“In pre­vi­ous years we didn’t have a lot of op­ti­mism be­cause things were so warm that it just seemed an un­pro­duc­tive state for crab. The tem­per­a­ture is now back to kind of a nor­mal level.”

The Fish, Food and Al­lied Work­ers (FFAW-Uni­for) said Feb. 26 there were en­cour­ag­ing signs for the crab fish­ery in the tech­ni­cal brief­ing.

“Much of the in­for­ma­tion about fu­ture re­cruit­ment comes from the post-sea­son crab pot sur­vey con­ducted by FFAW mem­bers,” the FFAW stated in a news re­lease. “The num­ber of small mesh pots in the post­sea­son sur­vey have more than tripled, in­creas­ing the value of this sur­vey as an in­dex of in­com­ing re­cruit­ment. FFAW is stress­ing that DFO have in­creased par­tic­i­pa­tion from har­vesters in both sci­ence and man­age­ment pro­cesses.”

The union said it is hope­ful there will be no ma­jor cuts to the TAC for the up­com­ing sea­son.

The re­lease also noted that since 2014, the per-pound price for snow crab has in­creased by 88 per cent, from $2.34 per pound to $4.39.

GLEN WHIFFEN/THE TELE­GRAM

De­part­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans sci­en­tist Darrell Mul­lowney out­lines the sci­ence branch’s lat­est snow crab as­sess­ment for mem­bers of the me­dia in St. John’s Feb. 26.

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