Crab harvest in doubt

Terry Roberts
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Industry players forecasting uncertain year for province's main fishery

There's another storm brewing in the province's troubled fishing industry, and one of the victims could be the crucial snow crab harvest.

The upcoming 2010 harvest is being buffeted by a litany of problems, with some major players saying a timely start to the fishery is unlikely. A complete shutdown is also not out of the question, some say.

There's another storm brewing in the province's troubled fishing industry, and one of the victims could be the crucial snow crab harvest.

The upcoming 2010 harvest is being buffeted by a litany of problems, with some major players saying a timely start to the fishery is unlikely. A complete shutdown is also not out of the question, some say.

The province's fisheries minister, however, is not quite as demoralized. Hanging in the balance is this province's most important fishery, which largely sustains about 3,000 fishing enterprises and at least 30 fish processing plants.

"I think we'll be seriously challenged to get a price that makes sense for people to go fishing," said Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers' union (FFAW).

McCurdy said prices were not sustainable last year, and conditions do not seem to have improved for this season.

The head of the province's association of seafood producers is doubtful the industry, in its current form, can survive the double-barrelled threat posed by deteriorating markets and weak currency exchange rates.

Derek Butler said the inflexibility being demonstrated by the fisheries union is also a factor.

At its annual convention last fall, union delegates passed a motion saying they would not fish crab for less than a $1.50 per pound. They also set a minimum price of 60 cents for shrimp.

Prices last season ranged from a high of $1.55 to a low of $1.35.

Butler said such intransigence is "completely divorced from reality" and suggested there would not be a fishery under those terms. He said fishermen in Alaska are being paid as low as US$1.10 for "bigger, better" crab.

"Right now there's no reason to be optimistic about a fishery on a timely basis given the contention of the FFAW and harvesters this far in advance," Butler said.

But McCurdy said there's only so far that fishermen can go before they hit an economic breaking point. He said operating expenses are enormous.

"Continuously dropping the price of raw materials to solve our problem is not the answer," McCurdy said.

Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman said it's premature to be writing an obituary on this year's crab harvest.

He said early indicators point to a stronger season, and said it's important to maintain a positive mindset.

But he acknowledged that the global economic downturn and a Canadian dollar that's nearly on par with US currency are troubling factors.

"Our hope is that the 2010 season will open on time, recognizing there will be some factors that will continue to impact the state of the fishery," he explained.

John Sackton, a seafood marketing analyst based in Massachusetts, also reported mixed results when examining the 2010 snow crab fishery.

He's heard reports of large inventories of crab carried over from last year in Asia, and there are indications the Japanese demand for crab is on the wane.

But in the U.S. market, he sees signs of a recovery, especially for large-size snow crab.

"It is very difficult to get a feel for what the market is going to be like this spring," he said.

The uncertainty could all come to a head Friday, when McCurdy and Butler meet with Jackman for a much-anticipated discussion about plans to restructure the industry.

McCurdy and Butler both confirmed Wednesday they will be toting proposals for the minister to consider as part of a memorandum of understanding reached between the groups last year.

McCurdy has been talking of the need for a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach to marketing the province's seafood products, while Butler has zeroed in on the need to streamline the harvesting and processing sectors.

Butler likes to compare the problems in the fishing industry to a recent streamlining at General Motors, formerly the world's largest automaker. GM was forced to cast off several well-known brands in order to avoid bankruptcy.

Butler believes a similar pruning is needed in the Newfoundland fishery. It will be a bitter pill for some communities, but, "That's the reality of the world."

And unless there are major changes in the markets and currency in the coming weeks, Butler said the crab fishery will not generate enough revenue to support the industry in its current form.

He said major changes are needed as soon as possible.

Jackman said he plans to forward the proposals to a special steering committee for further study. But they won't gather dust, he said.

"I will not sit on this. I want to see what it is and will provide reaction as soon as I can," Jackman said.

troberts@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Allied Workers, General Motors

Geographic location: U.S., Alaska, Massachusetts Asia Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Bones II
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    FFAW has to go. They are wasting millions on a new building and won't even invest in their own workforce - the same workforce the got the money from to spend millions on a new building! Fishermen, turf them, the fishery doesn't need them anymore, they are takers and that's all. Year after year, the industry becomes more dire and now we're at the point where McCurdy says there are possibilities that entire fisheries won't happen. You know one consistency through every crisis, every time? McCurdy and the FFAW clan always get paid, fishery or not. Do some math and add up what the FFAW can tie up and waste in annual cash and where it comes from. I've been wondering for a while what this kind of money could do to revitalize this dead industry in NL, well, dead for the actual fishermen - the FFAW will still get paid.

  • carla
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    Seems the large plants are cooking up a sceem to cherry pick the industry for themselves..Buttler compares the industry to GM.....not so.....GM was one company......the fishing industry is made up of many companies,all of which has a the same right as the other. Government should not be picking one over the other,big or small, which is what they have been doing for years...May i remind the government they are using taxpayers money....

  • robert
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    bob:the only people getting bonus money under the table are the owners of large quotas of crab.for the majority of harvesters out there their quotas range from 5000-100000lbs.i do not believe a crab buyer will pay me bonus for 5000 or 10000lbs of crab.having said that if i had 600,000or a million pounds like some harvesters a bonus will be paid because a few boats is all it takes to keep a plant going.we cant label all harvesters alike.just a side note before people comment that all fisherman are millionaires like i said how can i make a million dollars with 14000lbs of crab and 3750 lbs of cod so please do not put all fisherman in the same boat

  • Sihacpunjacpinnawong
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    Those are some serious allegations Bob, you got the proof?

  • George
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Slipper Skippers now, are as big a problem as the fish merchants of old. Although I have to say that last years problems were caused by one certain processor dumping lousy year old frozen crab into the marketplace. The biggest problem of all is the ever protective union they are forced to be a part of. How on earth can one union represent 3 fleet sectors AND the plant workers. Fishermen are self employed, yet they are told where to sell their product to, when to fish for it and how much they are going to get paid. Hardly a fair system. Free trade does not exist in the fishing industry, it should, as the best product should receive the highest price and be shipped to the highest buyer. Which seems to be anywhere outside of Newfoundland. New York & California eateries would pay top dollar for the sweet Newfoundland crab, yet we seem to governed by the Japanese market.

  • Doug
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    It looks like McCurdy and the union should start holding aerobic classes for fisherman. That way they will be all warmed up to start holding their hands out for their welfare and bailouts in March and April instead of having to wait until May or June this time.

  • Randy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    This is a clear attempt to bust the union,and Danny Williams and his gang are loveing it ...How stun can you be?? They got rid of FPI and the FPI act,now fishing communitys have nothing.The demise of rural nl will be the legacy of the great Danny

  • henry
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    i last summer got as low as 105 per pound it,s funny why it,s worth no money but to buy back from the plant crab is more than ever here.we got around 50 cent for cod and people visiting from upper canada told me one salt fish to buy in ont was 34 dollar,s so earl were,s the money i think it,s time for the truth there had to be bonus because i know fishermen who were offered 5 cent but never got it why is some treated better than others we all own the fishery dosen,t we it,s time for outside buyers to come in and give us a good price for out product

  • BOB
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    Deja Vu all over again. If its not feasible leave it in the water!!!! Supply and demand....the following year you will get a premium price!!! or alternatively maybe the processors can stop paying captains/vessel owners under the table money which flies under the radar of revenue canada. This money affects the processors bottom line. In the same vein, the fisherman should accept a price and stick to it and not demand the bonus money. There are a lot of expensive pickups and Florida vacations that were paid by money under the table. If this keeps up the smaller processor will be driven out of business and there will be approximately 4-6 main processors left. Once these prcessors get a strangle hold on the industry ....then the fishermen had better watch out cause they will pay you what they want and the under the table money will vanish along with your bargaining power.

  • Somenody's
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    Fishermen are selfish. They want to be self employed but want all the benifits of someone who has to work for some one else. I am self employed yet I cannot collect EI twice a year. All they need is to make $10,000 which they can do in a good week to qualify. The owners of the boats should not be able to collect EI and should have to pay all expenses as per a regular business owner to the people who work on their boats. You cannot have your pie and eat it to. If you do not like it then there is work in AB. I know of people who are on Workers Comp yet their boat and quota are still being fished. Where can I sign up for this type of career. Don't get me wrong, I am a fisherman's son. I just choose a different career field where there is an honest days work.

  • Taxpayer ll
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    Well I guess the province better get ready for some path maintenence, and brush clearing so that these guys can get their stamps.

  • Bones II
    July 01, 2010 - 20:20

    FFAW has to go. They are wasting millions on a new building and won't even invest in their own workforce - the same workforce the got the money from to spend millions on a new building! Fishermen, turf them, the fishery doesn't need them anymore, they are takers and that's all. Year after year, the industry becomes more dire and now we're at the point where McCurdy says there are possibilities that entire fisheries won't happen. You know one consistency through every crisis, every time? McCurdy and the FFAW clan always get paid, fishery or not. Do some math and add up what the FFAW can tie up and waste in annual cash and where it comes from. I've been wondering for a while what this kind of money could do to revitalize this dead industry in NL, well, dead for the actual fishermen - the FFAW will still get paid.

  • carla
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    Seems the large plants are cooking up a sceem to cherry pick the industry for themselves..Buttler compares the industry to GM.....not so.....GM was one company......the fishing industry is made up of many companies,all of which has a the same right as the other. Government should not be picking one over the other,big or small, which is what they have been doing for years...May i remind the government they are using taxpayers money....

  • robert
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    bob:the only people getting bonus money under the table are the owners of large quotas of crab.for the majority of harvesters out there their quotas range from 5000-100000lbs.i do not believe a crab buyer will pay me bonus for 5000 or 10000lbs of crab.having said that if i had 600,000or a million pounds like some harvesters a bonus will be paid because a few boats is all it takes to keep a plant going.we cant label all harvesters alike.just a side note before people comment that all fisherman are millionaires like i said how can i make a million dollars with 14000lbs of crab and 3750 lbs of cod so please do not put all fisherman in the same boat

  • Sihacpunjacpinnawong
    July 01, 2010 - 20:09

    Those are some serious allegations Bob, you got the proof?

  • George
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Slipper Skippers now, are as big a problem as the fish merchants of old. Although I have to say that last years problems were caused by one certain processor dumping lousy year old frozen crab into the marketplace. The biggest problem of all is the ever protective union they are forced to be a part of. How on earth can one union represent 3 fleet sectors AND the plant workers. Fishermen are self employed, yet they are told where to sell their product to, when to fish for it and how much they are going to get paid. Hardly a fair system. Free trade does not exist in the fishing industry, it should, as the best product should receive the highest price and be shipped to the highest buyer. Which seems to be anywhere outside of Newfoundland. New York & California eateries would pay top dollar for the sweet Newfoundland crab, yet we seem to governed by the Japanese market.

  • Doug
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    It looks like McCurdy and the union should start holding aerobic classes for fisherman. That way they will be all warmed up to start holding their hands out for their welfare and bailouts in March and April instead of having to wait until May or June this time.

  • Randy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    This is a clear attempt to bust the union,and Danny Williams and his gang are loveing it ...How stun can you be?? They got rid of FPI and the FPI act,now fishing communitys have nothing.The demise of rural nl will be the legacy of the great Danny

  • henry
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    i last summer got as low as 105 per pound it,s funny why it,s worth no money but to buy back from the plant crab is more than ever here.we got around 50 cent for cod and people visiting from upper canada told me one salt fish to buy in ont was 34 dollar,s so earl were,s the money i think it,s time for the truth there had to be bonus because i know fishermen who were offered 5 cent but never got it why is some treated better than others we all own the fishery dosen,t we it,s time for outside buyers to come in and give us a good price for out product

  • BOB
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    Deja Vu all over again. If its not feasible leave it in the water!!!! Supply and demand....the following year you will get a premium price!!! or alternatively maybe the processors can stop paying captains/vessel owners under the table money which flies under the radar of revenue canada. This money affects the processors bottom line. In the same vein, the fisherman should accept a price and stick to it and not demand the bonus money. There are a lot of expensive pickups and Florida vacations that were paid by money under the table. If this keeps up the smaller processor will be driven out of business and there will be approximately 4-6 main processors left. Once these prcessors get a strangle hold on the industry ....then the fishermen had better watch out cause they will pay you what they want and the under the table money will vanish along with your bargaining power.

  • Somenody's
    July 01, 2010 - 19:52

    Fishermen are selfish. They want to be self employed but want all the benifits of someone who has to work for some one else. I am self employed yet I cannot collect EI twice a year. All they need is to make $10,000 which they can do in a good week to qualify. The owners of the boats should not be able to collect EI and should have to pay all expenses as per a regular business owner to the people who work on their boats. You cannot have your pie and eat it to. If you do not like it then there is work in AB. I know of people who are on Workers Comp yet their boat and quota are still being fished. Where can I sign up for this type of career. Don't get me wrong, I am a fisherman's son. I just choose a different career field where there is an honest days work.

  • Taxpayer ll
    July 01, 2010 - 19:50

    Well I guess the province better get ready for some path maintenence, and brush clearing so that these guys can get their stamps.