Harvesters expect the FFAW to request price reconsideration by mid-July, but that won’t do much good if the price-setting panel is still flying blind with little market information, and no way for pry it free from the hands of processors. Mainland fishermen are said to be paid as high as 90¢/lb wet.
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The 2021 sea cucumber fishery isn’t exactly off to a flying start.
In fact, the cucumber fleet on Newfoundland’s south coast (fishing zone 3Ps) has yet to fish since June 2nd when the province’s fish price setting panel set this year’s price paid to harvesters at 60¢/lb. Find that decision here.
That’s the same price as 2020 during the hight of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic — and 20¢/lb below 2019 (prior to the FFAW negotiating the price).
This year marked the first time the FFAW has negotiated the price of sea cucumber, meaning it’s also the first year the final price decision has gone to the panel.
The panel admitted that it was basically operating blind — with limited data on the industry/logistics/ products/yields, no market assessment from the Fisheries (Forestry, and Agriculture) Department, and unable to pry the information from the hands of processors, who hold all the cards.
PANEL WAS ‘SIGNIFICANTLY CHALLENGED’
In the end, the panel set the 2021 price at 60¢/lb, even though the “right price” was likely between 60¢/lb (processors’ offer), and the 80¢/lb put forward by the FFAW.
That means harvesters lose 10¢/lb at the minimum. (If that's not a condemnation of the panel system of price setting, what is?)
Also keep in mind that the value of Atlantic-wide exports of dried sea cucumber products to the U.S. for the first three months of this year was $34.24/lb.
That's a huge spread between 60¢/lb, and $34/lb.
Read SEA-NL's take on that here.
The price setting panel also signed off this year on new quality/grading protocols for measuring water loss — which caught the FFAW off guard. The union assumed the processors would use the same dockside determination of net weight used in the past, outside a collective agreement.
The FFAW assumed wrong.
Some cucumber harvesters were already losing 60,000/lbs on a 260,000/lb-quota to water loss, and the new protocols could mean even higher losses, driving down the price to the 40-45¢/lb range.
BACK TO THE PANEL JULY 8TH OR 9TH
Cucumber harvesters have been told the FFAW plans to go to the price setting panel for a price reconsideration on July 8th or 9th.
The problem is there’s so little information available on sea cucumber prices. NL harvesters have been told that Nova Scotia fishermen are paid as high as 90¢/lb for sea cucumber wet — with no amount deducted for water loss.
SEA-NL hasn’t been able to confirm that. Indeed, information on fish prices is incredibly hard to come by.
PERMITS VS LICENCES
There are 19 permanent sea cucumber fishing licences off the south coast (fishing zone 3Ps), and 40 temporary permits.
Licence holders can fish as much (or as little) as they want. Permit holders must make at least five trips a year and/or land 50% of their harvest cap of 260,000 lbs.
Permit holders thought their permits had been made permanent licenses this year when Fisheries and Oceans changed the language on the fishing conditions, but DFO said that wasn’t’ the case, and a final decision won't be made until after the 2022 fishing season.