De­clin­ing snow crab biomass could mean more strug­gles for plant work­ers

Worry build­ing in places like Bon­av­ista

The Compass - - Fishery - BY JONATHAN PAR­SONS THE PACKET Jonathan.par­sons@thep­ Twit­ter: @je­j­par­sons

The lat­est study on snow crab, re­leased by the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans (DFO) this week, is caus­ing worry among those who work in the in­dus­try.

A new re­port by sci­en­tists from DFO, us­ing in­for­ma­tion gath­ered over a six-year pe­riod, says the biomass of snow crab is the low­est it’s been in 25 years.

While the fed­eral depart­ment is not talk­ing about quota cuts just yet — those de­ci­sions are usu­ally made in the spring — a plant worker in Bon­av­ista says the 2019 sea­son could be a strug­gle.

Barry Ran­dell is pres­i­dent of the Fish Food and Al­lied Work­ers (FFAW) union lo­cal at the Ocean Choice In­ter­na­tional (OCI) plant in Bon­av­ista.

About 300 peo­ple work at that plant; 270 of them on the se­nior­ity list, as well as man­age­ment and ca­sual work­ers.

“Any more re­duc­tion, you know it’s go­ing to have an im­pact,” Ran­dell told The Packet on Fri­day, not­ing over the last two years fish­ing quo­tas for crab were re­duced by 42 per cent. “So any more cuts on top of that is go­ing to mean less work, less peo­ple at the plant.”

While the plant is a multi-species fa­cil­ity, pro­cess­ing some tur­bot and capelin, it pri­mar­ily re­lies on the crab pro­cess­ing.

“The other (species) were a help to us this year, no doubt, but you can’t de­pend on that,” said Ran­dell.

Ac­cord­ing to Ran­dell one of the boats that sup­plied the plant since 1993 — the Ka­t­rina Char­lene — which fishes up­wards of 300 miles off­shore, brought about a mil­lion pounds of crab to the plant just three years ago.

“Last year it got that bad it just quit. There was noth­ing out there,” Ran­dell says. “It don’t look bright; let’s put it that way.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ran­dell, OCI is try­ing to shift back to pro­cess­ing cod at the fa­cil­ity.

“This year turned out to be a real good year for cod,” says Ran­dell, de­spite the fact the cod quota was cut by 30 per cent for the 2018 sea­son.

Ran­dell adds, ev­ery­one on the plant’s se­nior­ity list man­aged to get enough hours of work to qual­ify for sea­sonal em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance (EI).

How­ever, for some work­ers on sec­ond shift, it was tough.

The com­pany stepped in to make sure the em­ploy­ees got enough hours to qual­ity for EI ben­e­fits, even if it wasn’t all work on the pro­cess­ing lines.

“OCI helped out a lot of peo­ple on the end of it be­cause there wasn’t no crab on the go, but they gave them some work around the plant — paint­ing, clean­ing — gave peo­ple (enough) hours to qual­ify them,” says Ran­dell.



With the 42 per cent cuts over the past two years, Ran­dell says any fur­ther drops in snow crab quo­tas would be chal­leng­ing — it’s sim­ple math.

“You know it’s go­ing to have an im­pact if it’s so bad as what (DFO) says it is.

“There was worry in the plant last year … we had a tough year last year. Try­ing to get work, it was dif­fi­cult. I keep say­ing less crab means less work but that’s just the re­al­ity.”

Snow crab land­ings in this prov­ince peaked at 53,000 tones in 1999, and have been in de­cline since due to grad­ual quota cuts.

Still, it is the high­est value fish­ery for the prov­ince; ac­cord­ing to a 2015 re­port by the prov­ince on fish ex­port val­ues, snow crab was the most valu­able seafood ex­port for the prov­ince that year at over $376 mil­lion.

This past sea­son, while land­ings were just over 28,000 met­ric tonnes, snow crab was still the most valu­able fish­ery in the prov­ince, with a landed value of just over $295 mil­lion, thanks to a bet­ter than av­er­age price of just over $4 per pound.

The only fish­ery that came close to that in landed value was shrimp, at just over $200 mil­lion. In No­vem­ber, DFO man­agers will be trav­el­ling the prov­ince to meet with snow crab fish­ers to talk about the 2019 sea­son, and the sce­nar­ios that could come into play. One of those meet­ings will be held in Clarenville.


Barry Ran­dell is pres­i­dent of the Fish Food and Al­lied Work­ers (FFAW) union lo­cal at the Ocean Choice In­ter­na­tional (OCI) plant in Bon­av­ista.


The Ocean Choice In­ter­na­tional fish plant in Bon­av­ista pro­cesses snow crab each sea­son.

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