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Northern Shrimp quota slashed

The fights were starting to brew on Friday, as word spread of cuts to northern shrimp quota for 2017. Lean times in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery are turning to desperate times.

Who will get the remaining shrimp quota? Who gets to financially survive?

In response to declining shrimp numbers in areas off the province’s coast, the federal government has slashed quotas, with the result an expected wave of job losses.


The fish plants

“Ultimately, it’s devastating, it really is,” said Derek Butler, executive director of the Association of Seafood Producers, speaking with The Telegram on the cuts, including 63 per cent in Area 6, key to the small boat inshore fishery. That area has an allocated quota of just 10,400 tonnes for 2017, down from 48,196 tonnes just two years ago.

For perspective on the numbers, he said, a 177-million pound quota for the inshore from back in 2010 now stands at about 25 million pounds, or enough to run two shrimp plants solid for a season.

The province had eight plants processing shrimp last year.

Butler was not saying a handful of plants would close as a result of the latest quota cut, but no one who spoke with The Telegram expected survival across the board.

The producers did not criticize the federal government. Butler said the quota is following the science, showing a sharp drop in available stock.

Shellfish shock is hitting the province. Shrimp is not the only consideration, with largely ecological factors including warming temperatures and a return of groundfish numbers also driving down crab counts (the province’s other big cash crop).


Fish harvesters asking for consideration

FFAW-Unifor president Keith Sullivan, representing inshore harvesters and plant workers, said he believes the shrimp quota needs another look, with the argument a larger quota is possible, something that’s less of a drop than announced. It could save livelihoods, he suggested.

“It’s the devastating impact we were warning of before,” he said, referring to the coming hurt to rural Newfoundland, forecast in the midst of arguments around the Last In, First Out policy on shrimp management, demanding inshore fish harvesters take the first hit on quota cuts. An in-depth review led to that policy being abandoned. It saved the year for some, but shrimp stock continued to decline prompting the latest crisis.

“There’s no way those 3,000 (shrimp industry) jobs remain viable now,” Sullivan said, highlighting shrimp fishing Area 6, where the roughly 250 inshore enterprises are focused.

“It’s just a messy situation and we have no idea how we can organize a fishery around this,” he said.

The union was first out of the gate in terms of trying to spark public attention on the quota announcement. Apart from a change in the overall allocated quota, the FFAW is asking for all of the shrimp quota in Area 6 be given to the inshore industry, as opposed to being shared with offshore factory freezer trawlers.

The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL), interested in becoming the representative for fish harvesters, issued a statement suggesting the federal government hand some of the total allowable catch for the fishing area further North, Area 5, off Labrador, to the inshore industry. That’s in addition to immediately halting offshore fleet fishing off northern Newfoundland.


Offshore also hit

“The amount of quota that we have left for the offshore in Area 6 will keep those 250 boats from the inshore fishing for about one day,” said Bruce Chapman, executive director of the Canadian Association of Prawn Producers.

The offshore side of the shrimp harvesting business is not unscathed to begin with, he said, noting reductions in quota in other areas, with the expectation being fewer jobs and boats going forward.

The challenge of the cuts announced is compounded by an understanding there is no sudden rebound coming in the next year, he said.

“There will be fewer offshore vessels involved in this fishery and that’s going to be the reality and the people involved are going to be… fewer. There’s just no way around it unfortunately,” he said.

Asking for the offshore vessels to only fish shrimp further North is not on, he said, as the larger ships need the short-term work in ice-free Area 6 to sustain their year-round business model. He insisted it would not help the inshore side to survive. “To suggest this is going to solve any of the inshore’s problem is too foolish to contemplate,” he said.


A federal decision says province

Provincial Fisheries Minister Steve Crocker said the province knew what the reduction in quota could be for the coming year, based on the earlier stock estimates. The province appealed for a more moderate decline in quotas, over a two-year period.

“I wasn’t thinking DFO would go all the way back this year,” he said, while adding the department followed management rules and the decision remains with the federal government.

In response to what has been announced, he said he reached out to federal minister Dominic LeBlanc and requested a meeting, to discuss the shrimp cuts, “and other pressing issues.”

As for talk of job losses and plant closures, he said the province will work with communities as required, has a fish plant worker employment support program and potential in the Fisheries Fund for improving the overall industry.

A still image from a YouTube video — Cold Water Shrimp Fishery - Port aux Choix, NL

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