ST. ANTHONY AND ENGLEE, NL – Harvesters in the 3K region of the Great Northern Peninsula experienced a slight 2 per cent increase in crab quota this year.
But the price designation of $4.55 – a price far below what they had hoped for - has many in this fishery frustrated and seeking answers.
Englee fisherman Ronald Patey says without a better price for this new crab quota, which is roughly half of what it was in years past, harvesters will struggle to make ends meet.
“You got a job to do anything with it unless the price is half decent,” said Patey. “Most thing when they get scarce the price goes up, but we’re still not getting an even deal in Newfoundland.”
Chair of St. Anthony’s Port Authority Ernest Simms says the latest announcement around crab prices is a definite disappointment. He agrees with Patey the price in crab ought to be raised as the quotas and biomass go down.
“To see what’s happening to the fishermen, price cuts and quotas cuts – it’s ridiculous. I do not agree with how things have transpired,” said Simms.
“There’s no real difference in what’s happening to 50 or 100 years ago. The merchants are still there, the only thing is their names have changed.”
Unfair treatment in 4R fishery
One great frustration among Northern Peninsula harvesters along the 4R region is the disputes over crab fished in the region by out-of-province fishers from areas such as Quebec and Nova Scotia.
The price of the crab caught off these Newfoundland shores is often exponentially higher for these out-of-province harvesters, and it has been a growing grievance for years.
“Two boats side by side, one’s getting $6 a pound for their catch and the other one’s getting $4 for their catch,” Simms said of the 4R fishery. “It’s all the same biomass and in a lot of cases it’s being sold to the same company. If both of them got to fish for it why are they coming up with different prices?”
While his area 3K is predominantly fished by Newfoundland and Labrador harvesters, Patey agrees this particular situation in 4R is unfair and needs to be addressed.
“In 4R, they got it right on their door step,” said Patey. “Fellows from Quebec are there alongside [Newfoundland harvesters] with a fleet of gear. If those two boats were to compare prices – let’s just say there’s nothing to be excited about.”
In the Department of Fisheries and Oceans release of crab quotas on April 4, the 4R region also experienced a 50 per cent reduction.
The Northern Pen reached out to six different 4R fishermen throughout the week, but all six were out seal hunting and not available for comment by deadline.
Effects and solutions
While 3K did not experience the quota cut 4R did, St. Anthony harvester Jason Sexton says it was still a shock to see the lack of price increase.
“The price was a bit surprising because the talk over the winter was that everyone was expecting a higher price,” Sexton said. “But it never went in our favour; hopefully it will change.”
As chair of the St. Anthony Port Authority, Simms says these issues within the crab fishery trickle down through the port and throughout the province’s rural outports.
“If there’s a loss of income to the fishermen and a loss of time on the water then that of course affects us in a big way,” said Simms. “Whether it’s crab, shrimp, cod - that news is not good either. If the fishermen don’t do well, the port doesn’t do well. If the port doesn’t do well, businesses don’t do well. If the businesses don’t do well, they close down and people move away.”
Simms feels there has to be a bigger focus on cooperation between the various provinces and unions for these issues with the crab fishery to be resolved. He said the attitudes and energies often devoted to reacting to bad news has to be re-channelled to finding practical solutions.
One potential solution Simms sees is bringing the Atlantic provinces together to work on a five-year plan that ensures all harvesters are given equal treatment.
“Knowing that all the provinces are reaping benefits from the fishery, why can’t we get together to find solutions and fight together for what’s best for our fishermen,” he said. “The Atlantic provinces have to be there for one another and work with one another. That’d be better than just getting on the radio to talk about all that’s gone wrong.
“With the division of different unions, companies and provinces, there has to be a broader plan and bigger players. If the price is $5 a pound, it should be $5 a pound for everyone.”
MHA for St. Barbe – L’anse aux Meadows Chris Mitchelmore said he encourages harvesters in his area to reach out to him with their concerns and he will take those concerns to the provincial Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources Gerry Byrne.
Minister Byrne was reached for comment, but did not respond to the Northern Pen’s email or phone calls by deadline.