Northern crab harvesters question need for quota cut
Minister Tootoo to visit next month to discuss fishery
The Spring season for the North Eastern Nova Scotia (N-ENS) snow crab fishery is over and early reports indicate harvesters had record catch rates despite a massive quota cut being imposed on them. “The catches were phenomenal compared to what we expected. DFO told us our biomass was down 45% - some guys have had the highest catch rates they’ve had in their life. Same traps, same gear, same date. It just doesn’t add up,” says Greg Organ, a local crab harvester and President of the N-ENS Snow Crab Association. Organ says that two separate, but related issues, are impacting the fishery. The first involves this year’s decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to reduce regional quotas.
Based on scientific research conducted each Fall, the fishable biomass index (available species in nearby oceans that could be caught) of snow crab was estimated to be 45% lower this year than last season. As a precaution, DFO took the steps of cutting regional quotas by 54%. However, it took Organ just two days to catch three quotas worth of crab (this is possible because harvesters often team up and work more than one licence quota from a single vessel). He says this was the case for most harvesters he knows and the catch rate didn’t slow down at all like it normally does towards the end of a sparse season. Boat quotas (how many pounds each boat can catch in a season) are based on what is called the ‘Exploitation Rate’, or the percentage of total biomass that a zone is allowed to harvest. In a ‘Healthy Zone’, the exploitation rate is 30%. That means that of the total biomass in the zone, fishers can harvest up to 30%, leaving 70% of the biomass in the water. The cut in quotas this season downgraded the N-ENS zone to ‘Cautious’ and reduced the exploitation rate to 20%. This translates into one of the lowest Total Allowable Catch
“I am definitely in support of re-visiting numbers.” Mark Eyking, MP for Sydney-victoria
(TAC – a figure measured in tonnage – all zones in the Scotia fishery must total 100%) percentages that they’ve experienced in twenty years. The Association says that if nothing is done, the quota cuts will result in a loss of $6.5 Million revenue for 19 Cape Breton communities - $2.5 million less snow crab coming ashore and a loss of $4 million for fish processing plants like the Victoria Fisheries Co-op in New Haven. This year’s cut seems to only compound a bigger issue that N-ENS harvesters have been facing since the fishery was restructured in the mid-2000’s. “The 2005 restructuring created an undue hardship for the traditional fisher groups that wasn’t intended by Minister Regan when he tried to improve the fishery for everybody. We’re not proposing that our N-ENS fishery receive the same amount as the South (S-ENS), we just want a fair share of the overall TAC as was intended by the advisory panel and the Minister. The report said we could expect boat quotas of 40,000+ pounds. From the very first year, that has simply not happened,” says Organ. N-ENS representatives believe that the science being conducted is sound, but the political lines being drawn in the waters do not match the nature of the snow crab species. Unlike lobster that habitat largely in place, snow crab can move over extreme distances to feed. “DFO Science has stated that the Eastern Nova Scotia snow crab biomass is a single biological unit, the same resource, from Bay St. Lawrence to Halifax. DFO has divided the entire zone into crab fishing areas by drawing arbitrary lines on the map and restricting fishers to certain areas where they can drop their traps. Problem is, no one remembered to tell the snow crabs about these lines,” says Fred Kennedy, strategic advisor to the N-ENS Snow Crab Association. The independent panel at the time recommended that all stakeholders be provided permanent access at the percentage they enjoyed at the time the recommendation were made. N-ENS at the time was at 15% (TAC). Now they are just below 3%. Though the spring season is done, the harvesters will be back out on the waters for another month starting mid-july. N-ENS harvesters are asking the DFO to make immediate changes to this year’s quotas, but also revisit the restructuring that took place in 2005. “Our hope is that DFO will revise the cautious exploitation rate they provided in the initial announcement this season and after analysis recalculate the rate at a more reasonable level. This is not suggesting we are looking for the difference between 3% & 15% of TAC. We appreciate there must be a "crawl, walk, run" process. We do not see this as reckless. DFO Science has stated that the snow crab in the ENS Crab Fishing Areas is of a single biological unit. Hence, it seems the biomass should be exploited at one number and not as they have done for us this year,” Organ states. When reached for comment in Ottawa, Mark Eyking, MP for Sydney-victoria, said he supports the need for change.
“I’m definitely in support of revisiting numbers. What I’d like to see is when there are cuts, everybody gets cut. And when there are increases, everybody sees increases. I think they are [N-ENS] taking a big hit – more than others.” Eyking will host Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Hunter Tootoo next month when he visits Cape Breton to discuss the state of the fishery.
A trap from Crab Fishing Area 22 (part of the amalgamated N-ENS zone) is hauled from the water during the opening week of the crab fishing season. The North-eastern Nova Scotia Snow Crab Association is lobbying the federal government to rewrite the rules on how allowances are distributed.
Above displays zones of the Scotia Snow Crab Fishery as defined in 2005. Since that time, Zones 2022 are now the N-ENS Zone while Zones 23 and 24 no longer have lettered sub-zones.