In its own snow crab management plan for this province, DFO comes down on the idea of a fall fishery — pointing to a 2017 Marine Institute study that apparently found crab caught in the fall are typically newly hard shelled with lower meat content, which "affects" the market price in spring. (Find at copy of that study at the end of this post.)
The Marine Institute's Centre for Aquaculture and and Seafood Development carried out the 2017 crab yield study for DFO's Ellen Careen. SEA-NL asked DFO for a copy the report on April 17, and was finally forwarded one on June 29th. St. John's harbour.
Only the study — which involved 28 pans of crab from three boats in a single fishing zone, 3K off northeastern Newfoundland — appears far from thorough or conclusive, and raises the question why the department even mentioned it. (Pressure from plants that don't want to process in fall?)
A visual meat-in-shell assessment was carried out on 15 crab from each of the three harvesters.
As of today, only 68 million pounds of this province's 120 million/lb crab quota for 2023 has been landed, and even with season extensions a good chunk of the quota is expected to be left in the water.
A fall fishery could mean more (if not all) the crab quota could be taken, representing more income for the inshore fleet that has already been devastated by the huge fall in price.
The idea of a fall crab fishery was raised in April, but DFO quickly came down on the idea, as did Jeff Loder of the Association of Seafood Producers.
It's hard to listen to Jeff Loder lay down the law anytime — but especially when that law is wrong.
Processors can ship live snow crab from other provinces/countries into Newfoundland and Labrador for processing, but the inshore fleet can't truck or fly out live crab to other markets.
Who can justify that?
What's also wrong is the warped belief that a provincial government-controlled fish price-setting system could ever replace a free and open market in delivering the best possible price for fish to the inshore fleet.
From where I sit crab yield pilot projects should be carried out this fall in all crab fishing zones adjacent to the province for a more conclusive assessment of yield, and market viability for the inshore fleet.
Quota shouldn't be a problem, and the pilot projects would obviously follow soft-shell protocol.
The seafood market/price is not DFO's business.
The department should stick to science, conservation, and enforcement — not markets and commercial viability.
Ryan Cleary, Executive Director, SEA-NL Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization that serves as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters. Visit sea-nl.ca to join.