Shrimp cuts may mean trou­ble

Lo­cal ef­fect de­pends on al­lo­ca­tion, price

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY ANDREWROBINSON arobin­son@cb­n­com­pass.ca

Lo­cal fish har­vesters are un­sure of how bad things might turn out fol­low­ing news that the North­west At­lantic Fish­eries Or­ga­ni­za­tion is cut­ting the to­tal al­low­able catch for shrimp by up­wards of 40 per cent in 2011 and 2012. They say a break­down of where the cuts will be made and next year’s price of shrimp will each fac­tor into the out­come.

Cuts to the to­tal al­low­able catch (TAC) for shrimp in the 3L fish­ing re­gion off the coast of the Avalon Penin­sula are likely to im­pact lo­cal fish har­vesters, but how much so re­mains to be seen.

The North­west At­lantic Fish­eries Or­ga­ni­za­tion (NAFO) re­cently de­cided to re­duce the TAC from this year’s to­tal of 30,000 tonnes to 19,0000 in 2011 and 17,000 in 2012. The drop from this year to next is al­most 40 per cent.

Ac­cord­ing to a sci­en­tific re­port, the de­ci­sion was made to pro­tect the stocks.

The fe­male spawn­ing stock biomass in­dex for the au­tumn of 2009 in 3LNO was es­ti­mated to be 47,400 tonnes. This rep­re­sented a 63 per cent drop from es­ti­mated lev­els recorded in the au­tumn of 2007. The drop was sim­i­lar for the fish­able stock biomass in­dex over the same time­frame, at 60 per cent.

Nel­son Bussey, who fishes out of Port de Grave, says the cut will have an im­pact, but to what ex­tent is de­pen­dent on how it will be spread be­tween the in­shore and off­shore fish­ery.

“ We all have a cap, and this is go­ing to af­fect our caps,” says the cap­tain of East­ern Princess II. Bussey also sits on the Fish, Food and Al­lied Work­ers’ in­shore coun­cil and its 3L shrimp com­mit­tee.

Dar­ren Noo­nan, who has served as skip­per on a boat in Old Per­li­can for the last 12 years, says the cuts could be dev­as­tat­ing.

“I think we had 250,000 (shrimp) this year as a cap. You take a 40 or 45 per cent cut, and that’s to­tally dev­as­tat­ing,” he says, adding he un­der­stands there is a need to pro­tect the present stock.

“If the spawn­ing biomass is down, you can fish it to ex­tinc­tion. That’s what hap­pened to the cod,” says Noo­nan.

Bussey hopes the cuts will have more of an af­fect on spe­cial al­lo­ca­tions made to out­siders like Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

“At least when we bring in shrimp, you have trucks and off-load­ing crews at plants, and peo­ple are get­ting work from it. P.E.I. has 3,000-ton al­lo­ca­tion and they’ll sign it off to an off­shore fac­tory freezer. They’ll go out and catch it and land in St. An­thony or some­where, truck it over­seas, and that’s it.”

Bussey says many har­vesters in Port de Grave hold dou­ble li­censes, hav­ing bought out other li­cense hold­ers, which can in­crease a debt load by up­wards of $200,000. The sit­u­a­tion is fur­ther com­pli­cated by the fact that fuel costs ac­count for ap­prox­i­mately 30 per cent of a catch’s value.

“ With 30 per cent of the catch go­ing to fuel, and then the bank (pay­ments), this year there’s not a great lot left. This is why there’s a lot of peo­ple who are not ( fish­ing) shrimp. We hope even though there are go­ing to be cuts, some li­censes will be freed up.”

Price prob­lems

Noo­nan says the price of shrimp next year will play a role in how the fish­ery holds up. In 1998, he could sell shrimp for $0.70 per pound, but in more re­cent years the price has hov­ered at around $0.40 per pound. This year, the price-set­ting panel for the prov­ince set­tled on a price of $0.48 per pound.

At the present price, Bussey es­ti­mates a fish har­vester must catch 70-80 per cent of the shrimp limit within a full trip to cover costs.

“Shrimp is not like crab,” he says. The big dif­fer­ence be­tween the two fish­eries is the amount of fuel used. Crab takes much less, mak­ing it a more profitable ven­ture, though the shrimp fish­ery also proves use­ful in ac­cu­mu­lat­ing weeks nec­es­sary to even­tu­ally qual­ify for Em­ploy­ment In­surance once the fish­ing sea­son ends.

“ The boat own­ers are not mak­ing great money at it, un­less they’re com­ing back with full trips. It’s a mar­ginal fish­ery,” says Bussey, adding that fish­ing shrimp alone wouldn’t cover the costs of pay­ing for fuel, a boat mort­gage, and gen­eral ex­penses.

How­ever, Noo­nan does not ex­pect crab alone can make up for what­ever in­come is lost from cuts to the shrimp fish­ery, adding that the shrimp fish­ery has been im­por­tant to Old Per­li­can. That would in­clude har­vesters and fish plant work­ers em­ployed by Quin­lan Broth­ers Ltd.

Noo­nan says at­tract­ing crews in the area has be­come more dif­fi­cult in re­cent years given the de­cline in the price of crab, and a cut to the shrimp quota might not help mat­ters.

“ There’s only so much a boat owner can pay you,” he says. “If you can’t work and get enough for your un­em­ploy­ment to make a half-de­cent liv­ing, no one is go­ing to come with you. If the shrimp is gone, all you have left is the crab, and that’s six or seven weeks.”

If those em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties be­come less de­sir­able, Noo­nan says peo­ple from the area are likely to look else­where for work, with Al­berta be­ing a prime tar­get.

“Peo­ple can go to Al­berta, make quick bucks, and come home,” he says, adding many oth­ers are com­plet­ing train­ing to work on off­shore oil­rigs.

The shrimp fish­ery in 2010 has been an im­prove­ment over the pre­vi­ous year, ac­cord­ing to Bussey, with prices up 15 to 20 per cent from 2009. As of Oct. 13, only 43 per cent of the quota for shrimp in 3L had been caught.

Pho­tos by An­drew Robin­son/The Com­pass

Post de Grave fish har­vester Nel­son Bussey says he will be wait­ing to see how the cut to the to­tal al­low­able catch for shrimp in the 3L re­gion is di­vided be­tween the in­shore and off­shore fish­ery be­fore mak­ing a de­fin­i­tive state­ment on how much the re­duc­tion will af­fect his line of work.

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