Crab season in peril

Terry Roberts
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Fate of crab fishery rests with price panel; processors seek relief from weak markets

The latest hitch in the province's most lucrative fishery is once again pitting seafood producers against those who catch the resource, with both sides arguing over prices and the effects of a worldwide economic recession.

Top players in the industry gathered in St. John's Wednesday to lay out their cases before Fisheries Minister Tom Hedderson and the province's fish price setting panel.

The latest hitch in the province's most lucrative fishery is once again pitting seafood producers against those who catch the resource, with both sides arguing over prices and the effects of a worldwide economic recession.

Top players in the industry gathered in St. John's Wednesday to lay out their cases before Fisheries Minister Tom Hedderson and the province's fish price setting panel.

The panel will decide in the coming days on a request by processors to lower the price paid to fishermen.

In the meantime, thousands of fishermen are continuing to harvest the resource under a cloud of uncertainty, and inventories are swelling as demand for crab slows down.

The Association of Seafood Producers (ASP), which represents most of the 30-plus crab plants in the province, wants the price for raw material lowered from $1.55 per pound to $1.32.

The current price was imposed by the panel earlier this year, but seafood producers say markets in the United States and Japan have softened dramatically since then.

Under the Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act, the panel has the power to modify prices if the industry is in peril, ASP executive director Derek Butler said following the meeting.

"The best thing we can do at this point is to change the raw material price so that it corresponds to those market realities," he said.

Butler said the crisis needs to be acknowledged before the situation deteriorates even further, to the point where a shutdown is unavoidable.

"I don't think we should be prepared in this province to put a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar industry on the shelf. I think we should get on with it to the best of our ability," Butler stated.

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers' union (FFAW) is opposed to a change in the price, and argues the current price is affordable. The union has stated it will not allow prices to drop below $1.50 for crab that are four inches or more, or $1.20 for under four inches.

A change at this stage would send the wrong message to the market, at a time when crab fisheries in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are about to open, said FFAW president Earle McCurdy.

McCurdy said the union would prefer a temporary shutdown in order to clear inventories and kickstart the markets. He added many fishing enterprises are just barely managing at the current prices.

"We believe it may be tighter than the processors would like it, but at the current situation, the price that's there is affordable. Tight maybe, but affordable," McCurdy said.

Shutdown wouldn't help

Butler said a temporary shutdown would be counterproductive, since fishermen in other provinces would seize on the opportunity to fill the void.

"In two to three weeks, we'll be at a substantially lower market price and will have an even bigger problem to solve," Butler said.

Hedderson said the panel had a "crucial decision" to make in order to ensure the industry is not paralyzed by a shutdown.

Hedderson explained that the uncertainty is being caused by delays in the setting of a price for crab in the marketplace. He said it's difficult to offer any assurances to those in the industry.

"There is a lot that's beyond our control, and that's where the problem is," he said.

troberts@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Association of Seafood Producers, Allied Workers

Geographic location: St. John's, United States, Japan New Brunswick Nova Scotia

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Recent comments

  • Randall
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    $1.55 is not much for a pound of crab. There's not much profit in it for the fishermen. The processors will be alright when they sell the crab for 5 dollars a pound or more after the clean and cook it. Don't forget they get their labour dirt cheap, and the raw material dirt cheap as well. The fishermen need to get together and say to heck with NL processors and stay off the water till they get a fair price, or come over to NS and get a better deal.

  • Jim
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    Hedderson says its beyond our control. Well anything fair and rational is beyond the control of the dictatorship of Danny Williams. A B C D

  • gary
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    Well, looks like the rich just wants to get richer again... With the ever rising cost of fuel and running a fishing boat and crew. It will be fitting for the boats to off load their crab in Nova Scotia or the mainland. Most of the bigger boats now have tanks, so if they lower the price it is only a steam over to the mainland. The crab will still be alive and fit and fetch a good price. Well worth the trip if they can get the price. With a average catch of 30,000 Lbs you are talking aprox $7000 difference.
    The ones that will lose are the workers here on the island which process the crab.

  • Craig
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    One of the reason's the $1.55 per pound price is so important is that it is the break even point for the vast majority of crews for qualifying for EI.

    A lower price means social assistance for many - thus, the processors may be squeezed a little, i.e., the pool and condo down south may have to wait till the Fall - but it's receipt for poverty for the harvesters - if the government caves yet again to the whims of processors, it must provide bail out $$ up front.

    The provincial department of fisheries professed reason for being is to protect the `interests of the large processors' against all else - which means the interests of harvesters.

    It would be nice to pick the weak and vulnerable for a change. I have no illusions whose interest they will choose.

  • Randall
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    $1.55 is not much for a pound of crab. There's not much profit in it for the fishermen. The processors will be alright when they sell the crab for 5 dollars a pound or more after the clean and cook it. Don't forget they get their labour dirt cheap, and the raw material dirt cheap as well. The fishermen need to get together and say to heck with NL processors and stay off the water till they get a fair price, or come over to NS and get a better deal.

  • Jim
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    Hedderson says its beyond our control. Well anything fair and rational is beyond the control of the dictatorship of Danny Williams. A B C D

  • gary
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    Well, looks like the rich just wants to get richer again... With the ever rising cost of fuel and running a fishing boat and crew. It will be fitting for the boats to off load their crab in Nova Scotia or the mainland. Most of the bigger boats now have tanks, so if they lower the price it is only a steam over to the mainland. The crab will still be alive and fit and fetch a good price. Well worth the trip if they can get the price. With a average catch of 30,000 Lbs you are talking aprox $7000 difference.
    The ones that will lose are the workers here on the island which process the crab.

  • Craig
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    One of the reason's the $1.55 per pound price is so important is that it is the break even point for the vast majority of crews for qualifying for EI.

    A lower price means social assistance for many - thus, the processors may be squeezed a little, i.e., the pool and condo down south may have to wait till the Fall - but it's receipt for poverty for the harvesters - if the government caves yet again to the whims of processors, it must provide bail out $$ up front.

    The provincial department of fisheries professed reason for being is to protect the `interests of the large processors' against all else - which means the interests of harvesters.

    It would be nice to pick the weak and vulnerable for a change. I have no illusions whose interest they will choose.