It’s 100% possible (which is the problem in a nutshell), but a job to prove in court. What’s certain is that come Monday (May 16th) the $7.60/lb price paid to the inshore fleet to start the 2022 snow crab season will drop by as much as $1.45/lb — either to $6.55/lb or $6.15/lb — and millions of dollars will have been lost to enterprise owners.
The 2022 snow crab quota for the province is set at 50,470 tonnes, a 32% increase over last year, although the quota off Labrador is down 28%. According to DFO's latest catch statistics, 42% of the quota has been landed.
Millions will be lost to the inshore fleet from the price drop — not because the crab wasn’t there to catch, or because the boats weren't able to catch their quotas, but because processors/buyers have them by the balls.
Inshore boats are told when to fish, and how much to bring in, and the FFAW's weak master collective agreement allows for it.
Not only that, but so much of the province's inshore fleet is kept on trip limits as snow crab from the Maritimes/Quebec boats — which Derek Butler says is deserving of a better price — is landed here for processing.
That backups our own inshore fleet even further. Trip limits/scheduling also mean more trips to sea for inshore boats in weather that's worsening due to climate change, and increasing fishing costs as the price of diesel/all other expenses has skyrocketed.
The Quebec fishing boat Marc-Olivier grounded off Port aux Basques May 7th after reportedly landing snow crab caught in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for processing at Newfoundland and Labrador plants.
There's been word for weeks that the snow crab price may not hold up, and the price has dropped in international markets, particularly the United States, as a result of the impact of rising inflation on the purchasing power of consumers.
Trip limits and fishing schedules aren't the only ways processors/buyers are suspected of manipulating the system.
ASP BEAT THE FFAW WITH EARLE MCCURDY
The Association of Seafood Producers (ASP) and Derek Butler cleaned the FFAW's clock on price negotiations, using Earle McCurdy's appointment to the province's fish price-setting panel against the union.
Had the panel held the March 25th hearing as scheduled to decide the initial 2022 snow crab price — and not been delayed a week to deal with the ASP's challenge of McCurdy's appointment to the panel, which the FFAW described as "deliberate manipulation" of the process — the crab price likely would have been set $9.05/lb to start the season.
In recent days, Butler and the ASP came out against issuing a new crab processing licence to St. Mary's Bay, saying it would water down work at existing plants.
But that backs the inshore fleet further into a corner.
To rehash, the inshore fleet is under the thumb of processors/buyers in being told when to fish, how much to fish, and who to sell to.
Even as local buyers bring in our-of-province crab for processing, the inshore fleet can't access outside buyers or truck its product out, and the whole industry is exempt from the federal Competition Act in terms of pricing.
This past week Premier Andrew Furey announced an expert panel to recommend approaches to ensure "maximum long-term benefits" from the Upper Churchill project.
As renewable industries go, the potential of the province's commercial fisheries is as great as Labrador hydro, but the Furey administration — like provincial governments before it —has almost completed ignored the wild fishery.
At our continuing economic peril.
Executive Director, SEA-NL
To read more about SEA-NL, or to join the non-profit organization please visit sea-nl.ca