Quota cuts lead to uncertainty in fishing industry
Questions raised on accuracy of science, impact on plant workers
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) recently announced massive cuts to shrimp and snow crab quotas in Newfoundland and Labrador for 2017, and people in the industry are now wondering what the future holds.
The inshore quota in shrimp fishing area six (SFA6)was slashed by 63 per cent, bringing it down to 10,400 tons.
Two years ago, the total allowable catch for the same area was almost 48,200 tons. The quota has been reduced by 78 per cent over two years.
As for snow crab, total allowable catch is down 22 per cent compared to 2016 at 35,419 tons.
Owner-operator Carl Hopkins, who is also the mayor of Old Perlican, harvests shrimp and snow crab. While he finds the cuts to be alarming, Hopkins is less concerned about the immediate impact on harvesters. He expects the price of snow crab will ease their burden.
“For the crews and everything now with regards to the crab, it’s not going to impact us as much, because the price is up this year,” he said. “So that’s going to offset the cost.”
Hopkins is more worried about the impact of cuts on plant workers. With fewer products to process, he expects some tough decisions will be made.
“That’s who is going to, I think, feel the biggest brunt of this,” he said, adding if the trend continues next year, the situation could also become grimmer for harvesters.
When it comes to shrimp, that situation is already a bit rough. A shrimp license last year would allow Hopkins to harvest approximately 45,000 pounds. This year it will likely be less than 20,000.
“And then with the prices, they’re saying it’s going to be down again,” he said. “It’s going to be tough times ahead for us.”
Wayne Russell, an owneroperator who fishes out of Bay Roberts, attended advisory meetings with DFO in the lead up to announcements about the cuts. He’s been fishing for close to 40 years.
“The problem that the fishing industry has with the science is we think the science is flawed on the reports in 2015 and 2016,” he told The Compass. “There’s a lot of outside circumstances that they didn’t take into (account) when doing it — conditions of the water and the elements of the weather and everything else — and therefore it’s pretty well the same flaws with shrimp and crab.”
He contends DFO science relies heavily on assumptions, is short on facts and fails to fully recognize what’s happening in the ocean. He believes more money should be spent on scientific surveys to get a better sense of what’s underwater.
According to Russell, offers from harvesters to take out small mesh nets as a means to further gauge recruitment — also known as a fish species’ ability to reach a certain size or reproductive stage —were denied by DFO.
Hopkins is more forgiving of the science.
“With the cuts, obviously it’s not nice to hear for anyone who is fishing, but I guess the science is showing (problems), so you’ve got to pay heed to the science,” he said.
The Quin-Sea Fisheries plant in Old Perlican processes snow crab and shrimp, so the cuts will definitely hit close to home in Hopkins’ town. The Old Perlican mayor anticipates service centres like Carbonear will also feel the effects.
“So goes the economy in Carbonear,” Hopkins said. “It’s all affected by here . . . down the shore. We’ve got money, we go to Carbonear to spend it.”
Talk of a rebounding groundfish stock and an end to the cod moratorium won’t make a difference for this season, but there’s some optimism surrounding cod.
The Fish Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union has called on DFO to prepare for a transition from shellfish to groundfish.
Hopkins reckons if and when harvesters shift to groundfish, the process will need to happen at a gradual pace.
“There’s lot of groundfish around — turbot and codfish,” he said. “It’s just being allowed to go and catch it.”
“They’re saying cod is there, but cod is getting to be such a political game now that it’s not about the cod stocks,” said Russell, “It’s about the political ventures into it — between the inshore, the politicians, the people who thinks cod is the savior of all and that it should be brought back. Whereas right now cod is part of the destruction to all shellfish.”
Fishing vessels tied to the wharf in Old Perlican.