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Fishermen push back on new approach to determine health of snow crab stocks

Crab pots sit on the dock near a fishing boat in Petty Harbour in this Telegram file photo.
Crab pots sit on the dock near a fishing boat in Petty Harbour in this Telegram file photo. - Facebook profile photo

Fishermen are pushing back this week at a Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) plan to bring in a precautionary approach principle to help determine the overall health of snow crab stocks around Newfoundland and Labrador.

The approach is used to assess the health of other fishery stocks. The proposal has three levels or zones of classification — critical, cautious and healthy. Depending on which zone the data falls into, it helps set what the total allowable catch (TAC) should be for the crab fishery, and the amounts for various areas.

This week in St. John’s, in what is being called a precautionary approach working group for snow crab, DFO and key stakeholders are debating the plan to implement the system.

The Fish Food and Allied Workers (FFAW-Unifor) says fishermen have raised serious concerns about the proposed framework for snow crab.

Tony Doyle, vice-president of FFAW-Unifor and crab committee chairman for Conception Bay, said harvesters disagree with the process to develop reference points for crab. Fishermen whose livelihoods are tied to the management of the resource cannot accept a process that involved virtually no harvester consultation, he said.

“DFO has stepped back 25 years to where our presence, our history, our experiences are no longer valued,” Doyle said.

“We support a sustainable fishery and sound science-based fisheries management. However, there are significant issues in this approach that will have dire effects on the future of our communities.”

The FFAW-Unifor news release states that 11 crab committee chairpersons from around the province and FFAW-Unifor staff are attending the working group. Earl Dawe, a fisheries scientist and expert in snow crab science, is also representing FFAW-Unifor in the working group meetings.

Dawe was a fisheries scientist for more than 35 years at DFO and the senior scientist for snow crab until his retirement in 2015. After his retirement, he has maintained emeritus status with the department.

The release states that Dawe shares the concerns of the crab harvesters regarding inconsistencies in the calculation of the limit reference point for the proposed precautionary approach.

“The chairs of our crab committees unanimously agreed that bringing on Earl Dawe would bring additional legitimacy in voicing our concerns with the proposed crab reference points,” FFAW-Unifor secretary-treasurer David Decker said.

“What we are asking for is a defensible limit reference points for snow crab, and a workable and robust decision-making framework for a sustainable snow crab fishery. DFO developed these reference points with no meaningful consultations with harvesters. There are serious flaws with what is proposed, and we will ensure DFO understands harvesters are not prepared to accept these changes.”

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