Crabby about prices

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In recent months I had been hearing two different stories as it applied to the crab fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador.

On one side, market watchers had been telling me the Japanese were going to be cutting back and that there might be some challenges and a drop in crab prices.

The other side insisted there was very little crab inventory lying around from last year in the United States, and pointed out there had been reductions in Alaskan crab quotas.

Seems the province’s three-person Fish Price-Setting Panel have taken on the view of the former with their announcement Tuesday that crab prices in Newfoundland and Labrador will drop to $1.83 on the wharf for the opening of this year. The 2013 price is down from $1.95 last year and $2.15 in 2011.

That means the panel went along with the Association of Seafood Producers position at $1.83 instead of the position put forth by the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ (FFAW) union asking for crab prices to be set at $2 per pound. That’s a big loss for the union and its member harvesters.

We don’t know what bonuses will be figured into that equation, of course, as processors procure crab product from the harvesters, but we know every cent counts and that the crab fishery is the most valuable one in the province — hovering around $220-$250 million annually.

It’s a bit of an ominous sign given that many feel the industry will experience a bit of a downturn in many fisheries this year. But that is the nature of any business, there are up and down years no matter what you’re into whether it be fish, agriculture, oil, minerals, or anything else.

There’s already some scattered talk of crab fishermen tying up and not fishing at $1.83. If that’s the case, we will see a very serious test for the union and the solidarity among its members given that fishermen — who have bills to pay just like the rest of us — fished crab for $1.35 in 2010 and $1.40 in 2009.

But again, these are symptoms of a larger set of problems.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but you have to wonder if the crab fishery — and any number of other fisheries — in this province might, you know, benefit from an actual co-ordinated branding and marketing campaign.

We don’t know because it simply hasn’t been done. At all.

And despite all the chatter about money being made available (which is different than money actually being used) for marketing based on the mostly ignored recommendations in the now laughable Fishing Industry MOU exercise, I’m not sure we will ever know. I hope I am proven wrong, because that’s a blog I’d look forward to writing.

In the meantime, while the dip in crab prices is a jagged pill for crab fishermen, don’t expect it to be a harbinger of doom for the industry as a whole this year.

The industry gets largely ignored in the face of oil and gas drilling and mineral extraction, but it’s still a $1 billion industry that fuels the rural sector (where a lot of the tourism industry’s annual $1 billion in value is also extracted … just saying).

The fishery reminds me of a saying: “Anything any good never comes easy.”

Amen to that.


Jamie Baker is the managing editor for The Navigator magazine,

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