Fisherman blames factory freezer trawlers for shrimp decline

Melissa Jenkins
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Potential decreases to shrimp quotas for fishermen in Newfoundland and Labrador have some crying foul about the damage factory freezer trawlers have had on the inshore fishery.

Roland Genge, a fishing boat captain and the deputy mayor of the town of Anchor Point on the Northern Peninsula, has been predicting a change for years, and believes someone should have known there would be damaging effects of trawlers on the inshore fishery.

“I’ve been writing (about this) since 2008,” the 38-year veteran shrimp fisherman explained. “I told (the government) where it was going to be to today.

“It’s devastating to our area. You’re going to kill all the communities with this.”

Predictions of the state of the shrimp fishery were made public earlier this week when the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union announced there would be potential for a drastic decrease to what each licensed fisherman could catch this year in Area 6, off the Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador. The union has been told the shrimp biomass is down about 40 per cent.

FFAW secretary-treasurer Dave Decker said that in 2009, there were about 131 million pounds of shrimp harvested. The catch decreased to 69 million pounds last year.

He expects if the pattern holds true, there would be about 12 million pounds of catchable shrimp this year. That’s enough for one shrimp plant to be in operation, he said. There were 10 plants in operation last year.

Genge is concerned about the effects it will have on the local area.

“We have a plant here in Anchor Point and about 15 communities feed off it,” Genge explained. “We’re looking at losing perhaps all (10) if this goes ahead.”

The change in quotas could be about 75 per cent, Genge said. He holds two licences.

“Where I fished last year, I had two quotas of 450,000 (total),” he explained. “If this goes through this year, I’ll be looking at 112,000 — down to 56,000 pounds per licence.”

He believes the trawlers are tearing up the seabed that houses the spawning shrimp before they mature. This is leaving few viable shrimp for reproduction.

Several years ago, 63 licenceholders on the Northern Peninsula got together and agreed they would not fish for the month of April in order to allow spawning season to conclude.

“You have to have a rest period for anything if we’re going to have a future here for that fishery,” he stated. “But nobody listened.”

After implementing the change, the fishermen saw a dramatic increase from May one year to the next, with up to 10 times the shrimp caught over a two-day period.

Although the new quotas have not been announced, if the cuts are made, Genge believes it will be devastating to the economy of the Northern Peninsula.

“It’s our livelihood,” he said. “The community is dying and losing work because someone won’t listen to a bit of common sense.”

When asked if he had a solution to the problem, Genge was quick to say the wrong people have been making the decisions. He believes fishermen and those directly involved in the harvest should have a hand in deciding how to help increase the shrimp population.

“We’ve been trying to get Area 6 transferred over to the inshore fishermen,” he said. “We won’t be fishing in spawning season. And in three to five years we wouldn’t be looking at quota cuts, we’ll be looking at leaving some in the water because we have too much for our markets.

“We’d bring it back to our ports and have lots of work (for the plants as well).”

Genge said he believes there is more to the decision than meets the eye. His theory is that big corporations, including the ones operating the trawlers in the vicinity of the potential cuts, are responsible for the changes.

“I think they’re out to drive us out of the fishery,” he said.

The Northern Pen

Organizations: Allied Workers

Geographic location: Northern Peninsula, Anchor Point, Southern Labrador

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