Editorial: Fished out

Published on April 5, 2017

Snow crab

©Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram file photo

It’s a veritable seafood platter of bad news: a collapsing shrimp quota, falling crab numbers, and a cod stock not remotely healthy enough to even think about having as a fisheries mainstay.

The worst part of the news came as a one-two punch: Friday, a 63 per cent cut in the Area 6 shrimp quota. Monday, a 22 per cent cut in crab quotas. The cod? Early last week, scientists made it quite clear that the stocks aren’t healthy enough yet to be any sort of late-breaking fisheries savior. Cod stocks are still in the critical stage; rebuilding, yes, but not anywhere near enough to support an expanded fishery.

…the fishery may be occasionally out of mind in urban parts of this province, but it’s a critical financial lifeline outside the overpass.

The news was bad, but it wasn’t unexpected — estimates on the health of stocks have been public knowledge for some time. The question has been whether the federal government was going to heed scientific advice or make the same mistakes as were made with cod years ago — to continue fishing until the species being fished close in on near-commercial extinction.

If you look at the provincial government’s budget document The Economy, the fishery doesn’t pop up until page 37 — when it does, it’s hard not to notice the impact of crab and shrimp. In 2015, shellfish accounted for 58.9 per cent of total fish landings in the province, but more importantly, 82.5 per cent of the landed value for the entire fishery. The landed value for shrimp and cod in 2015? A whopping $539.5 million — but the other thing you see is that, in 2015, total shellfish landings had been on a five-year downwards slide, and were lower in 2015 than at any time in the last 12 years.

The writing’s been on the wall for quite some time that all was not right in the ocean — and not just here.

On the good side, the demand for crab — and price — have risen significantly, something that may help cushion the blow of the quota cuts. That will, at least, help fish harvesters. It won’t help anyone working in processing, though. Any time there is less product to process, fewer workers are needed and there are fewer hours of work.

All of that threatens to be a substantial problem for rural parts of the province; the fishery may be occasionally out of mind in urban parts of this province, but it’s a critical financial lifeline outside the overpass.

The problem is that the loss of revenue is coming at a time when the provincial government is singularly unable to do anything to help; oil has not rebounded to the point that the provincial government has money to spare, and what money we do have is going into the largest per-capita civil service in the country, and, not insignificantly, into a power project we may not need and certainly can’t afford.

It’s hard, hard times.