Rocky start for crab har­vest

Price dis­pute, over­sup­ply has im­pact on 2013 sea­son


It’s mid-morn­ing on April 29 and a light driz­zle is fall­ing in the dis­tance as a ve­hi­cle en­ters Port de Grave, hav­ing nav­i­gated the wind­ing, hilly roads that bring res­i­dents and vis­i­tors into this rugged, scenic fish­ing port.

As the ocean nears, the pave­ment is damp and the cool air smells of sea­wa­ter and rain. The scent of freshly har­vested crab be­comes preva­lent as the bluish-green wa­ter emerges on the hori­zon.

Walk­ing down a steep wooden stair­case, the sound of dock­work­ers chat­ting and laugh­ing nearby can be heard, while large fish­ing boats coast into their tem­po­rary rest­ing spots along­side the wharf.

Crew mem­bers on the 65-foot At­lantic Sea Clip­per off­load hun­dreds of blue and black plas­tic con­tain­ers by hand and crane over the nar­row gap be­tween the ves­sel and the dock.

The boat’s cap­tain, 34-year vet­eran fish­er­man Glenn Pet­ten, stands nearby, watch­ing his crew off­load the valu­able cargo. The rou­tine is well­re­hearsed and ef­fi­cient.

Now we have to pro­tect the crab. New­found­land de­pends on this fish­ery.

The grunts are low, but the strain can be seen on the faces of labour­ers as they stack the heavy con­tain­ers onto pal­lets. The lid­less con­tain­ers are in view, and nes­tled in­side are hun­dreds of ice-cov­ered North At­lantic Snow Crab, hav­ing re­cently been plucked from the ocean bot­tom by hun­dreds of spe­cial­ized pots that lure in the long-legged crus­taceans in search of an easy meal.

Too much crab to process

This is the sec­ond haul for Pet­ten since the sea­son be­gan on April 20, and it is suc­cess­ful. Some 50,000 pounds of crab are off­loaded from the hold­ing com­part­ment, weighed and sorted, and then moved by fork­lift into an await­ing truck. It’s then shipped to a pro­cess­ing plant in Val­ley­field, Bon­av­ista Bay.

But there’s a prob­lem. Not long af­ter ar­riv­ing in port, Pet­ten is told the plants are over­loaded with prod­uct, and he should sit tight for a cou­ple of days.

“There has been so much back­log at the plant they need us to wait,” he ex­plains. “Our plan was to go to­mor­row, but now we have to hold off.”

Wel­come to an­other day in the never-dull New­found­land fish­ery.

It’s the lat­est de­vel­op­ment in an al­ready rocky start to the 2013 crab har­vest, which was de­layed for just un­der three weeks be­cause of a price dis­pute be­tween har­vesters and pro­ces- sors.

Once re­solved, fish­er­men were ea­ger to har­vest their catches, which cre­ated an­other dilemma — a glut.

— Glenn Pet­ten, cap­tain of At­lantic Sea Clip­per fish­ing boat

Not want­ing to jeop­ar­dize qual­ity, pro­ces­sors de­manded a slow­down, mean­ing high­en­ergy fish­er­men like Pet­ten had to cool their heels.

A sus­tain­able re­source

For five days at a time, Pet­ten and his crew face the cold and un­pre­dictable At­lantic wa­ters, set­ting and haul­ing crab pots, sort­ing and toss­ing back crab and pack­ing con­tain­ers with ice for the jour­ney back to shore. There is no time to spare.

Pet­ten says rules are con­stantly chang­ing and reg­u­la­tions are be­com­ing stricter to con­tinue to pro­duce enough crab for the 115-mil­lion pound quota.

While on the wa­ter, the At­lantic Sea Clip­per crew sort through their catch and im­me­di­ately throw the fe­males and smaller crab back in the wa­ter. Only male crabs with bod­ies larger than 3.75 inches can be landed, Pet­ten says, adding that is how the re­source is sus­tain­able.

“If we look af­ter the small (crab) and the fe­males, and we put them back in the wa­ter as soon as they come on board the boat, they’ll live to re­pro­duce,” he ex­plains. “That is what keeps the crab stocks go­ing.”

In April 2013 North At­lantic Snow Crab were added to the Marine Ste­wartship Coun­cil sus­tain­abil­ity list be­cause of sex­ual and siz­ing se­lec­tion prac­tices, and also for new twine re­quire­ments for crab pots im­ple­mented this year.

“If ev­ery fish­er­man loses two crab pots, that’s a lot of pots on the bot­tom. Crab are in there and they’ll just die be­cause they can’t feed. Then more will climb in and die,” he de­scribes. “With the biodegrad­able twine, once the pot is in the wa­ter too long, the twine will break and the crab will es­cape.”

If there were no crab fish­ing

Stand­ing at the wheel on the bridge of his ship, Pet­ten de­scribes what he be­lieves the out­come would have been if the crab fish­ery did not be­gin this year, or if the crab stocks were no longer sus­tain­able.

“It would be dev­as­tat­ing to the New­found­land econ­omy,” he says. “Back years ago peo­ple thought there was no end to cod fish, but there was an end in 1992. Now we have to pro­tect the crab. New­found­land de­pends on this fish­ery.”

It is not only the crab fish­er­men that rely on the in­dus­try. The dock­work­ers, plant work­ers and some truck driv­ers also rely on this fish­ery.

Pet­ten said his boat burns be­tween 100,000 and 150,000 litres of fuel each sea­son, and crews con­sume be­tween $500 and $600 worth of gro­ceries each trip. It’s the same for the roughly 50 other fish­ing ves­sels that home­port in Port de Grave, which is one of the busiest fish­ing ports in the prov­ince.

Pet­ten also rec­og­nizes that many peo­ple have worked only in this in­dus­try their en­tire lives. He is one of them.

“Ev­ery dol­lar I have ever made in my life came from some sort of fish­ery. I have never made a dol­lar on land,” he states, not notic­ing the slow sway of his boat. “And the lo­cal econ­omy ben­e­fits sig­nif­i­cantly. Our salaries all go back to the econ­omy.”

Pet­ten does not want to see an­other sea­son de­layed like this year.

“Ev­ery­one has to make a dol­lar in this in­dus­try. The pro­ces­sors have to make a dol­lar, the fish­er­men have to make a dol­lar. Let’s come up with an idea so ev­ery­one gets their share,” he sug­gests. “Ev­ery­one col­lec­tively has to get to­gether and make sure we come up with some sort of so­lu­tion so we don’t end up spend­ing two or three weeks fight­ing over the price of crab again.”

Pho­tos by Nicholas Mercer/the Com­pass

Glenn Pet­ten dis­cusses the crab fish­ery on the bridge of the At­lantic Sea Clip­per on April 29 af­ter a suc­cess­ful haul at sea.

Dave An­drews op­er­ates the crane that lifts con­tain­ers of crab out of the hold­ing com­part­ment of the At­lantic Sea Clip­per.

Selby Pot­tle stacks con­tain­ers of snow crab from the fish­ing boat At­lantic Sea Clip­per.

At­lantic Sea Clip­per crew mem­ber Robert Marsh waits to un­load a con­tainer of snow crab.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.