Fished out

The Compass - - Editorial -

It’s a ver­i­ta­ble seafood plat­ter of bad news: a col­laps­ing shrimp quota, fall­ing crab num­bers, and a cod stock not re­motely healthy enough to even think about hav­ing as a fish­eries main­stay.

The worst part of the news came as a onetwo punch: Fri­day, a 63 per cent cut in the Area 6 shrimp quota. Mon­day, a 22 per cent cut in crab quo­tas. The cod? Early last week, sci­en­tists made it quite clear that the stocks aren’t healthy enough yet to be any sort of late-break­ing fish­eries sav­ior. Cod stocks are still in the crit­i­cal stage; re­build­ing, yes, but not any­where near enough to sup­port an ex­panded fish­ery.

The news was bad, but it wasn’t un­ex­pected - es­ti­mates on the health of stocks have been pub­lic knowl­edge for some time.

The ques­tion has been whether the fed­eral gov­ern­ment was go­ing to heed sci­en­tific ad­vice or make the same mis­takes as were made with cod years ago - to con­tinue fish­ing un­til the species be­ing fished close in on near-com­mer­cial ex­tinc­tion.

If you look at the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment’s bud­get doc­u­ment The Econ­omy, the fish­ery doesn’t pop up un­til page 37 - when it does, it’s hard not to no­tice the im­pact of crab and shrimp. In 2015, shell­fish ac­counted for 58.9 per cent of to­tal fish land­ings in the prov­ince, but more im­por­tantly, 82.5 per cent of the landed value for the en­tire fish­ery.

The landed value for shrimp and cod in 2015? A whop­ping $539.5 mil­lion - but the other thing you see is that, in 2015, to­tal shell­fish land­ings had been on a five-year down­wards slide, and were lower in 2015 than at any time in the last 12 years.

The writ­ing’s been on the wall for quite some time that all was not right in the ocean and not just here.

On the good side, the de­mand for crab - and price - have risen sig­nif­i­cantly, some­thing that may help cush­ion the blow of the quota cuts.

That will, at least, help fish har­vesters. It won’t help any­one work­ing in pro­cess­ing, though.

Any time there is less prod­uct to process, fewer work­ers are needed and there are fewer hours of work.

All of that threat­ens to be a sub­stan­tial prob­lem for ru­ral parts of the prov­ince; the fish­ery may be oc­ca­sion­ally out of mind in ur­ban parts of this prov­ince, but it’s a crit­i­cal fi­nan­cial life­line out­side the over­pass. The prob­lem is that the loss of rev­enue is com­ing at a time when the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment is sin­gu­larly un­able to do any­thing to help; oil has not re­bounded to the point that the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment has money to spare, and what money we do have is go­ing into the largest per-capita civil ser­vice in the coun­try, and, not in­signif­i­cantly, into a power project we may not need and cer­tainly can’t af­ford.

It’s hard, hard times.

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