PORT AU CHOIX, N.L. – Crab harvesters in zone 4R area 13 are wondering if their unique advantage to sell to Quebec will soon come in handy.
With a 50 per cent reduction in quota for the 2018 4R crab fishery, Port au Choix fisherman Robert Dobbin is keeping a close eye on the price for crab in Quebec this year, although selling his catch to Quebec is not something Dobbin has done in roughly 15 years.
“When I first started crab fishing with my uncle it was 45 cents a pound here, and for a few years we would go across to Quebec side and get a dollar a pound,” he said. “This year we’ll have to wait and see. If the price is only within five or ten cents difference it won’t be feasible, but if there’s a 50-cent difference on the pound it’d be well worth it.”
To sell his catch to Quebec would be a seven-hour steam over 40 miles of water to the St. Paul’s River. Dobbin says the price in Newfoundland and Labrador has been relatively on par with Quebec in recent years, and he has not needed to sell his catch outside of the province.
But the controversy surrounding prices in the 4R region has been around for some time and still remains. Rumours abound that fishers in Quebec and Nova Scotia working off the Northern Peninsula coasts are making a bigger bang for their buck than Newfoundlanders fishing on the same grounds.
Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources Gerry Byrne says while this issue has been around for quite some time, an independent study was released in 2014 that dispelled much of the controversy.
“It was so heated in that year that this special report was commissioned to study the price differential between Newfoundland and Labrador with the rest of Atlantic Canada,” said Byrne.
“The result that came back was it was more of a perceived differential than an actual differential.”
The report, submitted by Michael Gardner, revealed that prices were unique in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery due to deductions like Canada Pension and worker’s compensation that are taken out directly in this province but not in others. As well, the report details that bonus payments resulting from negotiations are often excluded in price landing data.
“The main conclusion drawn from this analysis,” to quote the summary statement in the January 2014 report, is that that gap in price is “much narrower than the official data indicates.”
According to Byrne, the Quebec price for crab this year is expected to be similar to the price announced for Newfoundland and Labrador catch.
“What my department and fishery officials are hearing right now is that the price in Quebec will be $4.65,” he said.
The story of higher prices in these other provinces persists, Byrne says, because of spot markets that often give crab harvesters the option of selling their catch for much higher than the minimum price set by the Fish Price Setting Panel for Newfoundland and Labrador.
“You’ll hear anecdotal stories of a fisherman getting $7 or more for their catch, and usually that’s an individual case of selling directly to a consumer at the wharf who wants to have a boil up,” said Byrne. “This is a very different situation and could be the source of a lot of the discussion.”
Dion Lavers fishes crab out of area 13. He says he has the choice to go sell his catch to Quebec but it is not something he has done in many years.
Lavers feels it would be better if all provinces shared the same price for their catch, to alleviate the confusion and rumours that often surround crab - particularly in the 4R region.
“If the provinces could all have the same price, it’d be perfect,” said Lavers.
Another contentious issue across the Newfoundland and Labrador crab fishery has been the price announcement of $4.55 that came as a shock to both harvesters and the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW).
While this is the highest price for crab in the province’s history, Dobbin says the price came as a shock as the union was calling for a price closer to $4.80.
However, Byrne stressed these prices depend on a global market, and there is a price threshold to ensure consumers do not stop buying the product if it becomes too expensive.
“Understandably, we have a tendency to look in our own backyard for our price markers, when in fact this is a global marketplace,” said Byrne.
“There is a maximum value at which a consumer will buy crab. Like any luxury commodity, once you hit a certain price, consumers stop buying snow crab and will substitute it for other types of seafood.”