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DFO won't enforce 20% tolerance in snow crab fishery to stop high-grading (profit over conservation)

Six months after SEA-NL called on the federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans to enforce a 20% size tolerance in the snow crab fishery to prevent highgrading, DFO has declined the request — effectively putting profit over conservation in this province's most valuable commerical fishery.

The landed value of the this year's snow crab fishery was $258 million, more than lobster and shrimp combined. In 2022 the crab fishery was worth $757 million, more than ALL other fisheries combined. This past seasons the companies/ Association of Seafood Producers (ASP) dropped the 20% tolerance meant to dissuade high-grading to save money.

DFO says straight up in its Snow Crab Integrated Fisheries Management Plan that the the 20% tolerance reduces the incentive to high-grade.

But in a Nov. 29th letter to SEA-NL, DFO's director-general for NL, William McGilliviary, said the department will not enforce it.

"... because the 20% tolerance is an industry-led initiative, and based on a pricing agreement between harvesters and buyers, DFO cannot specifically enforce this pricing practice."

DFO's first and only consideration should be the health of the stock — not price considerations.

Enforcing the 20% tolerance is the right thing for DFO to do, and leaving it to the companies/ASP to support conservation only when it economically suits them is a recipt for disaster.

DFO has to grow a set.


For years there has been an industry-managed two-price system for snow crab in Newfoundland and Labrador — with a higher price paid for crab with a greater than four-inch carapace (shell), and lower price for smaller, but still legal-sized crab.

The 20% tolerance allowed an enterprise to be compensated with the higher price for the first 20% of smaller crab, and was specifically designed to reduce high-grading. 

High-grading is the “intentional release of legal-size crab in order to retain crab of a higher quality and/or larger size and therefore of greater value.”

However, after the crab tie-up in May fish processors/buyers in the province — represented by the ASP — eliminated the 20% tolerance to save money.

At one point this past season owner-operators were paid $2.25/lb for crab with a four-inch carapace and up, and $1.90/lb for legal size under 4-inch.


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 to join. If you have any issues contact me at or 709 682 4862.

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