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SEA-NL calls on DFO Minister to reinstate 20% tolerance in crab fishery to stop high-grading

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Thursday, June 15 — Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) has called on the federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans to take immediate action to close the window opened by processors/buyers to promote high-grading in the snow crab fishery.


“Conservation must trump profit, which is obviously not the case with the processing sector that is out to scrape every last cent from the inshore fleet at the expense of the health of the stock,” says Ryan Cleary, SEA-NL’s Executive Director.


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 ($2.30/lb as of today), and lower price for smaller, but still legal-sized crab ($1.90/lb).


The price system included a tolerance that allowed enterprises 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.”


DFO has long supported the system. In fact, the 20% tolerance is specifically mentioned in the department’s Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP) for snow crab in the NL region: “This tolerance is aimed at reducing the incentive to high-grade.”


However, since the end of the crab tie-up in mid-May fish processors and buyers in the province — represented by the Association of Seafood Producers — have unilaterally eliminated the 20% tolerance.


Owner-operators themselves say the incentive to high-grade — especially in light of the severe drop in market price since 2022 — has obviously increased, and is, in fact, taking place on a widespread basis.


SEA-Nl wrote federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray this week urging her to take immediate action.


“It’s clear the industry-managed snow-crab pricing system — more specifically, the 20% tolerance — must be made hard-and-fast DFO policy for the sake of the long-term health of the stock,” Cleary said.


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Below is a copy of the letter to the federal Fisheries Minister, cced to the province's seven Members of Parliament.


Wednesday, June 14th, 2023

The Honourable Joyce Murray

Minister's office

200 Kent St.

Station 15N100

Ottawa, ON

K1A 0A6

Dear Minister,

On behalf of inshore enterprise owners here in Newfoundland and Labrador, I write to you with a serious conservation concern regarding the commercial snow crab fishery, and a policy change by fish processors and buyers that could jeopardize the long-term health of the province’s most valuable stock.

On a separate note, but also involving this province’s crab fishery, SEA-NL takes issue with the timely release of critical information from DFO’s NL Region — specific to the possibility of a fall fishery.

First, to conservation.

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, and lower price for smaller, but still legal-sized crab.

Owner-operators are currently paid $2.25/lb for crab with a four-inch carapace and up, and $1.90/lb for legal size under 4-inch.

The price system included a 20% tolerance — allowing an enterprise to be compensated with the higher price for the first 20% of smaller crab — and was specifically designed to reduce high-grading.

As you’re aware Minister, 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.”

DFO has long supported the system. In fact, the 20% tolerance is specifically mentioned in the department’s Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP) for snow crab in the NL region: “This tolerance is aimed at reducing the incentive to high-grade.”

However, since the end of the crab tie-up in mid-May fish processors and buyers in the province — represented by the Association of Seafood Producers — have unilaterally eliminated the 20% tolerance.

Owner-operators themselves say the incentive to high-grade — especially in light of the severe drop in market price since 2022 — has obviously increased, and is, in fact, taking place on a widespread basis.

SEA-NL urges your immediate attention to the issue, as it has become apparent the industry-managed snow-crab pricing system — more specifically, the 20% tolerance — must be made hard-and-fast DFO policy for the sake of the long-term health of the stock.

Conservation must trump profit, which is obviously no longer the case with fish processors and buyers.

SEA-NL’s also takes issue with the release of critical information from DFO’s NL Region specific to the possibility of a fall snow crab fishery.

As you know, there is no fall fishery for snow crab in Newfoundland and Labrador, but the idea for one was raised earlier this spring at the beginning of the almost seven-week tie-up over price.

The idea is still being discussed today given that not all of this year’s 54,300-tonne quota is expected to be taken.

DFO’s IFMP specifically mentions a 2017 pilot project by the Marine Institute in St. John’s that found crab caught in the fall are typically newly hard shelled with lower meat content, "which drives down the price the following season."

The report appears to underpin DFO’s opposition to a fall fishery.

SEA-NL first requested a copy of the 2017 report on crab meat yield (as a means to "assess the biological and market viability of a fall fishery") on April 17th, but we have yet to receive a copy.

Inshore enterprise owners face an incredibly challenging year, and the best way forward can only be chartered with the release of all relevant information in a timely manner.

SEA-NL requests that the report of the 2017 Marine Institute pilot project be released as soon as possible.

Respectfully,

Ryan Cleary, SEA-NL



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