Can the snow crab season be saved in Canada?

Snow crab is back in the news in Labrador and Newfoundland, and still not without issues. On this occasion, the FFAW-Unifor are calling on the government again.
Crab trap on dock. Photo by: Adobe Stock.
Crab trap on dock. Photo by: Adobe Stock.

Snow crab is back in the news in Canada, and still not without issues. On this occasion, the Fish and Allied Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW-Unifor) are calling on the provincial government to regulate processing companies better, issue additional processing licenses and open up the province to outside buyers to allow fishermen to sell their catch. In addition, they are also holding several meetings in Ottawa with federal government officials to advance the proposed Emergency Economic Support (ESP) for all workers affected by the snow crab crisis.

This is the scenario in which things remain about the snow crab season, which seems more difficult to close with a happy ending.

The first problem stems from the behavior of the processing companies. According to the union, these companies are engaging in "unethical" commercial behavior concerning the small vessels of the province. Although the fishery may be open with a price agreement, without sales, the fishermen are still in crisis, and the different possibilities between one and the other are becoming more evident. "Our Union has made every effort this year to work out a fair proposal to ensure all fleets have a fair opportunity to participate in the fishery, but at every turn, we have only been met with the same fish merchant-style tactics," said Jason Spingle, FFAW-Unifor Secretary-Treasurer.

Many weeks but with poor and very uneven rewards

The fishery has been operating for three weeks but has landed only a low percentage of snow crabs. Seasonally, the fishery is expected to close in a few weeks, but even if DFO grants season extensions, the possibility of landing the full quota this year is increasingly unlikely. "FFAW-Unifor conducted an online poll of license holders this week where nearly 70% stated they do not believe they will be allowed to land their quotas this season," stated their communiqué.

"The Association of Seafood Producers and their member companies are brutalizing small boat harvesters. The Department of Labour must immediately intervene and we're looking to speak to Minister Davis on how we can ensure fish harvesters are treated fairly this season. The way this industry is being destroyed by companies must end," said Greg Pretty, FFAW-Unifor President.

Currently, there is a situation where harvesters may not have the opportunity to unload even 10% of their quota. They explained that if the processors in the province are unable to handle Newfoundland and Labrador crab fairly and equitably, it would be beneficial to consider opening up opportunities for processors from other regions whose season is declining. This would allow the harvesters to unload crabs, sustain their families, and keep the economy thriving. "It's very likely our Union will be taking this fight to the streets in the coming days unless we can ensure fairness for all of our members," said Spingle.

Aid to mitigate the effects of this late 2023 season

Moreover, the different parties have conducted several meetings in Ottawa to tackle the complexities of this fishing season. Among others, the participants from the federal government included Minister Gudie Hutchings, Minister Seamus O'Regan, MP Lisa Marie Barron, MP Clifford Small, and DFO Minister Joyce Murray.

The focus is to move forward with the proposed Emergency Economic Support (ESP) for all workers affected by the NL snow crab crisis by 2023.

This plan seeks to alleviate the situation that fishermen have been suffering. On the one hand, from the latest effects of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. On the other hand, to assist after the late season and with the problems of the crab price.

Currently, negotiations are ongoing, and a swift government response is expected. Hopefully, in not much time, the snow crab will continue being the topic of discussion, but instead for its problems, for its taste.

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