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Sea cucumber processors cried poor mouth in spring, but load and go with French boats this fall

Processors cried poor mouth this spring when the panel set the 2022 sea cucumber price to the inshore fleet at 68¢/lb, plus 27.5% deduction for water loss, but French fishing vessels from St. Pierre-Miquelon like the Cap Marie have been landing sea cucumbers steady belt in recent days in Grand Bank and Fortune.

This St. Pierre-Miquelon fishing vessel unloaded sea cucumbers Wednesday in Fortune. The 2021 total allowable catch for sea cucumbers in waters under French sovereignty or jurisdiction on the St. Pierre Bank was set at 1,820 tonnes live weight.

What changed for NL processors to be buying millions more pounds of cucumber from another country for sale into world markets? (Unless the price was good all along, of course.)

But then that’s one of the problems acknowledged by the provincial government-appointed price setting panel: it’s essentially operating blind when it comes to sea cucumbers.

“There is limited data on the industry, logistics, its products, and yields,” the panel wrote again this past May when it set the 2022 price of sea cucumber at 68¢/lb. “It is difficult to evaluate what constitutes a reasonable sharing of market returns.”

The provincial government recently ordered a review carried out of the final offer-selection system of fish pricing in this province.

The review recommended some tweaking to the status quo, but nothing that will help with the limited market data on sea cucumber.

The province's sea cucumber fishery usually starts June 1st, but the 2022 season was delayed until July because processors wouldn't buy from the inshore fleet for the panel-imposed price.

They eventually decided to do so.

Then when the fishery began our boats had to wait 7-14 days between trips on buyer-imposed fishing schedules to slow down their landings.

Meanwhile, enterprise owners watched from the wharf as St. Pierre-Miquelon vessels unloaded their sea cucumber catches.

Fifty-nine Newfoundland and Labrador enterprise owners are licensed sea cucumber on the St. Pierre Bank off southern Newfoundland. Each sea cucumber license holder is subject to a harvesting cap of 260,000/lbs of sea cucumber round weight.

NL Sea Cucumber production consists primarily of frozen and dried form, with the vast majority exported to China, Hong Kong, and the United States.

According to DFO statistics, the landed value of the 2022 sea cucumber fishery stands at $8.7 million, and average price per pound of 67¢.

If the pricing panel established by the provincial government cannot determine what constitutes a reasonable sharing of market returns, and the just completed review of pricing system won't change that, but it's back to the drawing board.

But the time to act is now — not when the season is about to open.

Ryan Cleary,

Executive Director, SEA-NL

Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization serving as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters. You can read more about SEA-NL, and join us here.

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