The news hit just before question period in the House of Assembly Monday afternoon that the federal government is cutting crab quotas by 22 per cent.
This was an additional blow after the federal government cut the Area 6 shrimp quota by 63 per cent last week, in response to a declining biomass.
Shellfish made up more than 80 per cent of the total landed value of seafood last year, so these kinds of cuts will have a huge economic impact.
“This is devastating news for the industry — both the harvesting and processing sectors,” NDP Leader Earle McCurdy said.
“The issue of that magnitude should be above partisan squabbling and we should be trying to work together to make the best of a real tough situation.”
To that end, McCurdy said the government should reconvene the all-party committee that previously worked together to give inshore harvesters a larger share of the shrimp quota in the face of declining stocks.
Progressive Conservative MHA Kevin Parsons was mostly in agreement with the idea of an all-party committee, albeit less enthusiastic.
“I think it’s a little bit late,” he said. “I think the minister should have been on top of this file since science did their estimates weeks and months ago. And he only reacts once the cuts actually come.”
Responding to a question from NDP MHA Lorraine Michael in the House of Assembly Monday, Ball said he would consider it.
Fisheries Minister Steve Crocker, speaking to reporters, said the government would help harvesters and plant workers who are affected by the quota cuts, but he didn’t have a lot of answers on specifics.
Crocker said that given the age of many fishery workers, retirement might be an option.
“The average age is about 58 years old in most of these fish plants,” he said.
“If you look back to 1992, during the cod moratorium, we had a lot of young people that were involved in the processing jobs. So now we do have an older demographic, so that may alleviate some of the stress, but certainly not all of it.”
On that front, Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) president Keith Sullivan said he would like to see the federal government look at a fisheries quota buyout system that would leave the harvesting sector more viable for the people left behind.
“In some desperate areas, I think they need to look at investing in a plan that’ll give harvesters of the future a good chance of having sustainable incomes in the future of the fishery,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said one silver lining is that the price of crab this year will be substantially higher than last year, which will soften the blow of lower quotas.
But Sullivan said he’d like the government to reconsider the drastic cut to quotas, perhaps doing a more gradual cut over the course of a couple of years.
“They need more co-operation — listening to harvesters more,” he said.