The frustrations of the fishery
If you follow developments in this province’s fishing industry, chances are you’ve shook your heads at times at the chaos that often overtakes the crab harvest each spring.
The 2013 fishery is no different. After both sides — the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) and the Association of Seafood Producers (AS) — failed to reach a negotiated price for a pound of crab this spring, they both went to The Standing Fish Price Setting Panel.
The harvesters, represented by the FFAW, were demanding $2 per pound, while the processors, represented by the ASP, offered a minimum price of $1.83.
Under the Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act, the panel is obliged to select one of the two submissions put to it by both parties. Last year, for instance, the panel accepted the offer put forth by the FFAW.
But on April 2, the panel announced it had accepted the offer put forward by the processors, and that the minimum price would be $1.83.
The price was a reduction to what harvesters had been accustomed, following banner years in both 2011 and 2012.
In its written decision, the three-member panel stated, among other things, that, “One cannot conclude on the basis of the information that prices to harvesters should increase (over what was paid in 2012). On the balance of probabilities it is more likely that the market will be no better or perhaps less rewarding in 2013”
It further stated: “At this time, it seems that the trend points towards decline …”
That should have been the end of it, right? Both parties accepted the ruling and the fishery commenced, right? Wrong.
For nearly three weeks, harvesters engaged in a volunteer tie-up, saying the price was too low, and that processors had raised expectations throughout the winter by offering confident assessments of this year’s harvest. Emotions ran high, and climaxed with a troubling incident at a processing plant in Hickman’s Harbour in which some 30,000 pounds of crab was tossed into the harbour. The crab was purchased from a fisherman on the west coast who had defied the tie-up.
Faced with the prospect of losing an entire season, and the shock to the province’s economy it would bring, processors finally softened their position and agreed to pay $2 for all sales up to and including Sunday, May 4.
But the problems didn’t end there. Several hundred fishing vessels left ports throughout the province at about the same time late last month, returning with millions of pounds of crustaceans within a short period of time. The result? An oversupply of raw material that forced processors to call for a slowdown.
Optimism and enthusiasm was once again replaced by temporary tie-ups and delays.
On a positive note, both sides have agreed to set up a committee this fall to develop options for crab pricing structures aimed at avoiding price disputes in the future.
Let’s hope it works better than the current formula. If there’s a way to take some of the uncertainty and turmoil out of the fishery, it must be found. The thousands of people who make a living from the industry deserve nothing less.