Live cold-water shrimp look bloody dropped from a net and piled together in a metal container on board the Cape Ashley.
It takes sweat and tears, in addition to these shellfish, to keep the boat in the water, steam it as much as 20 hours from Port aux Choix to the fishing grounds, set a trawl and pull the sloppy masses aboard, year after year.
The 65-foot vessel is owned by Dwight Spence. Its crew includes his son, Ashley Spence, who has been fishing for more than 20 years, family friend Wade Rumbolt and Chad Spence — now a poster boy for the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters — who has fished on and off for 15 years with his father and brother.
The youngest Spence narrated a “Cold Water Shrimp Fishery” video for the fish harvesters association this spring. A featured face nationally, he cannot say now if he will be fishing in 2015.
“They’re trying to cut our quotas. The thing about it is, if they do cut our quotas, there’s going to be devastation throughout the Northern Peninsula,” he told The Telegram, saying his future would probably lie in construction.
Already, reduced quotas have brought his family’s operation to the breaking point. Without recovering quotas, he expects there will be million-dollar boats around the province hauled from the water.
“You know the way it is, it’s hard to pay off if you’ve got no shrimp to catch.”
No sweat and tears from those boats, and fewer runs for blood-coloured shrimp, means less need for supplies such as fuel, less need for supports such as icing and mechanical repairs, less need for mending nets or feeding visiting fish buyers.
“We’re not going to have enough shrimp to process. All of these plants on the Northern Peninsula are not going to have the shrimp,” Spence said, predicting closures.
Shrimp accounts for one of every three dollars in the landed value of the province’s fishing industry, bringing in $187 million at last available count — more than the fishery as a whole was landing in the 1980s.
But landing totals have dropped in recent years, largely because of quota cuts tied to population declines. Generally speaking, there are fewer shrimp available, attributed to changing water temperatures and a higher number of predators.
For 2015, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) has decided to place a moratorium on shrimp in the NAFO-regulated area of the Grand Banks. Canada was provided a total allowable catch of 3,580 tonnes there this year.
For the areas closer to the provincial mainland, regulated by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), quotas for the coming year have yet to be determined.
In 2013, the inshore quota for northern shrimp was reduced from 45,300 tonnes to 33,876 for 2014 — a 26.2 per cent decline — while the offshore allocation was reduced from 66,224 tonnes to 63,789, a 3.6 per cent loss.
In November, DFO scientists issued a report on short-term prospects for key commercial species, including shrimp: “Short-Term Stock Prospects for Cod, Crab and Shrimp in the Newfoundland and Labrador Region (Divisions 2J3KL).” It stated the expectation should be for continued low, even declining, shrimp stocks over the next five years, specifically for fishing areas five to seven — essentially the area off eastern Newfoundland and southern Labrador.
“I don’t like it, but I’m expecting to see some (further) quota cuts on shrimp,” said Marcel O’Brien, who helped build the Labrador Fishermen’s Union Shrimp Company.
O’Brien was inducted into the Atlantic Canada Marine Industries Hall of Fame at the end of November.
“I’m hoping not, because if we get some quota cuts on shrimp, it’s going to devastate the entire industry. Not only the fishermen themselves, but the whole province is going to be affected by it drastically. Because the fishery drives rural Newfoundland.”