Sea cucumber season off Newfoundland’s south coast usually begins June 1, but a price dispute means boats have yet to steam for the fishing grounds. The 68¢/lb price (plus 27.5% deduction for water loss) has been in place since May 18th, but processors won’t buy for it, and their attempt at price reconsideration was rejected last week by the price-setting panel.
The sea cucumber fishery takes place off Newfoundland's south coast in fishing zone 3Ps, with each licence holder subject to a harvesting cap of 260,000/lbs (118 tonnes) of sea cucumber round weight. New or emerging sea cucumber fisheries have also opened off the east coast (fishing zones 3LNO) and west coast (fishing zone 4R).
A meeting of the inshore sea cucumber fleet is scheduled for this coming Friday (July 8th) at 11 a.m. at the Clarenville Inn.
Processors are said to be actively attempting to get the fleet down to a lower price, with some boats offered 55¢/lb, and others 65¢/lb.
That's not permitted under the panel system of fish pricing — the minimum price of 68¢/lb is "binding" on all parties — but hasn't stopped similar attempts to sidestep the "binding" price in the snow crab fishery.
In fact, add sea cucumbers to the growing list of panel decisions (northern shrimp, capelin) that are not resulting in commercial fisheries.
The panel has become the joke of the East Coast fishery.
Ironically, the panel system was created almost 20 years ago to avoid fishery shutdowns, and keep the industry moving.
Last year, the 59 sea cucumber licence holders (40 are temporary) remained tied up over price until early August — eventually fishing for 70¢/lb — 10¢/lb more than 2020, although the then-new grading protocols deducted about the same amount or more for water loss.
In fact, last year was the first year the FFAW negotiated the price of sea cucumbers.
In 2019 prior to the pandemic and the union stepping in, the price paid to harvesters was 80¢/lb, plus a 23% deduction for water loss.
In setting the sea cucumber price to start the 2022 season, the panel noted that it faced similar challenges to last year with "limited data on industry, logistics, its products, and yields,” meaning its impossible to say whether owner-operators are receiving a fair market share.
There was a 13-cent spread between the FFAW’s 68¢/lb sea cucumber price, and the 55¢/lb on the table from the Association of Seafood Producers.
Sea cucumber production in this province consists primarily of two product forms: frozen whole, and dried. The vast majority of production is exported to China and Hong Kong.
SEA CUCUMBER SURVEY CANCELLED LAST YEAR
DFO had planned a shellfish survey last year to focus on 3Ps sea cucumber, but it was cancelled for the third consecutive year because of mechanical problems with the Canadian Coast Guard research vessel Needler.
According to internal DFO memos obtained by SEA-NL through the federal Access to Information Act, the stock was last assessed in 2017 and resource managers had requested the survey to evaluate the impact of increased quotas in recent years.
Executive Director, SEA-NL
To read more about SEA-NL, or to join the non-profit organization please visit sea-nl.ca