Shrimp cuts may mean trouble
Local effect depends on allocation, price
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.”
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.
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.