Biomass de­cline

The lat­est stock as­sess­ment of snow crab in the New­found­land and Labrador re­gion.

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - FRONT PAGE - BY BAR­BARA DEAN-SIM­MONS (WITH FILES FROM JAMES MCLEOD) Barb.Dean-Sim­mons@tc.tc

It’s not a pretty pic­ture.

In a tech­ni­cal brief­ing last Mon­day af­ter­noon, Dr. Dar­rell Mul­lowney, lead sci­en­tist for snow crab in the NL Re­gion for the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans (DFO) said the lat­est stock as­sess­ment on snow crab in the New­found­land and Labrador re­gion shows an over­all 40 per cent de­cline in ex­ploitable biomass from 2015-16.

Since 2013, the de­cline of ex­ploitable biomass has been 80 per cent.

Ex­ploitable biomass refers to the crab that are adult, and of le­gal size — a shell size greater than 95 mm — for com­mer­cial fish­ing.

The DFO num­bers come from their own trawl sur­veys — one in fish­ing zones off the south coast each spring, and the other in north­ern fish­ing ar­eas in the fall — as well as from re­ports from ob­servers on com­mer­cial fish­ing ves­sels, the log books of the crab fish­ing fleets, and trap sur­veys con­ducted by DFO in in­shore ar­eas.

The de­cline in crab stocks, ex­plained Mul­lowney, is due to two ma­jor fac­tors: warm­ing wa­ter tem­per­a­tures and ground­fish.

The warm wa­ter has cre­ated an ideal en­vi­ron­ment to help cod and other ground­fish thrive, ex­plained Mul­lowney. And cod like to eat crab.

The other dis­mal news is that the pre-re­cruit­ment biomass — the num­ber of male crabs that are still molt­ing and will grow to fish­able size within the next two to three years — is also down.

Ac­cord­ing to the data of­fered by DFO Mon­day, the pre-re­cruit­ment indices have been low in most sur­veyed ar­eas and were at its low­est ob­served level in 2016.

“No im­prove­ment, or fur­ther re­duc­tions, in re­cruit­ment are ex­pected in the next two to three years,” Mul­lowney said.

The news of de­clin­ing snow crab stocks is likely not a sur­prise to those who fish from the long lin­ers that pur­sue the valu­able shell­fish.

Since a peak of 1999 — when land­ings in the prov­ince peaked at 53,500 tonnes — the catches have dropped to 42,000 tonnes in 2016.

“We have been pro­vid­ing ad­vice for sev­eral years now,” said Mul­lowney, “and each year the num­bers show de­cline.”

Mul­lowney was asked what the de­cline might mean for crab quo­tas this year for the in­shore fleets.

How­ever, the sci­en­tist said it’s pre­ma­ture to say.

“I don’t want to jump in front of the con­sul­ta­tion process,” he said, re­fer­ring to the meet­ings that DFO will hold with snow crab fish­ers around the prov­ince dur­ing March as the depart­ment pre­pares to make rec­om­men­da­tions to the fed­eral min­is­ter.

From those meet­ings, and the num­bers cal­cu­lated by sci­ence, the min­is­ter of DFO will de­ter­mine the quo­tas for the 2017 fish­ing sea­son.

Any drop in quo­tas will, nat­u­rally, have im­pacts on those who de­pend on the snow crab — both fish­ers, as well as pro­ces­sors and plant­work­ers.

The prov­ince’s Fish­eries and Land Re­sources Min­is­ter, Steve Crocker, told TC Me­dia the crab as­sess­ment is a ma­jor con­cern, but the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment will need to wait to see how it fully im­pacts peo­ple.

“We’ll have to wait and see what comes out of the quota meet­ings which will be held in the next few weeks,” Crocker said. “But un­doubt­edly, this is go­ing to take some sub­stan­tial GDP out of our econ­omy,

there’s no doubt about it.”

Crocker said that, if nec­es­sary, the gov­ern­ment will look at pro­vid­ing as­sis­tance and pro­grams for em­ploy­ment im­pacts.

In 2016, ac­cord­ing to DFO sta­tis­tics, snow crab land­ings in this prov­ince were worth $274 mil­lion to the fish­ing fleets, with crab worth, on av­er­age, $2.97 per pound at the dock­side.

At the end of the line — as the crab makes its way through pro­cess­ing lines — the value to the pro­vin­cial econ­omy is sig­nif­i­cant.

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.

Around the prov­ince, mostly in ru­ral ar­eas, hun­dreds of plant work­ers are em­ployed on the pro­duc­tion lines, pro­cess­ing and pack­ing snow crab legs for mar­ket.

The lat­est stock as­sess­ment on snow crab in the New­found­land and Labrador re­gion shows an over­all 40 per cent de­cline in ex­ploitable biomass from 2015-16.

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