At least one snow crab buyer in the province is bringing in weekly trip limits of 20,000/lbs on boats in the inshore fleet, forcing some enterprise owners to make more trips to sea, and driving up their costs by thousands of dollars for fuel alone.
The inshore boats of Petty Harbour just outside St. John's. The 2022 snow crab quota for Newfoundland and Labrador is set at 50,470 tonnes, a 32% overall increase over last year, although the quota off Labrador is down 28%.
Ocean Choice International is said to be allowing owner-operators with one snow crab license to bring in 15,000/lbs a week, while the holders of two licenses can only bring in 20,000/lbs.
Enterprise owners fear they may not land their full quota if the weather turns bad, and they miss a week at sea. They're also concerned a dragged-out snow crab season may cause them to miss the start of other fisheries like caplin.
Many owner-operators say the solution is to either increase the province's fish processing capacity, or allow outside buyers to operate in the province on a level playing field.
Personally, I think we should go down the auction road. (Hold that thought.)
In late March — a week or so before the opening of the 2022 snow crab fishery — there was a flurry of unrest as the FFAW-Unifor called for outside buyers, and attempted to negotiate a new Urner Barry-pricing system for snow crab similar to lobster.
What's clear is that a demonstration and calls for wholesale change in the snow crab pricing system can not be taken seriously (or expected to be successful) when they're made at the 11th hour.
A one-off meeting with Premier Andrew Furey and two of his ministers also won't cut it in terms of securing a fairer pricing system.
The province might consider a fish-pricing summit later this summer to explore all options to achieve a fair market price for both harvesters and processors.
The Big Reset, the 2021 report of Premier Andrew Furey’s economic recovery team, highlighted how the combative structure of fish price negotiations with the FFAW going head-to-head against the Association of Seafood Producers is "anti-competitive", and requires an exemption in the federal Competition Act
The report pointed to an auction system of fish pricing as a potential way to take “market and quality issues” into consideration in setting the price, but the Furey administration has yet to act on that advice.
The 2022 snow crab season began on April 4th in 3Ps and off the west/southwest coasts (fishing zones 4R,3Pn), while crab fishing in some areas off the northeast coast (fishing zone 3K) opened today.
To date, 1,201 tonnes (2.6 million/lbs) or roughly 34% of the snow crab quota off southern Newfoundland in fishing zone 3Ps has been landed.
Under the panel system of fish pricing, both the FFAW and ASP are permitted one appeal (reconsideration) of the $7.60/lb snow crab price that was put in place on April 6th, but so far there's been no move by either side to use it.
The 2021 snow crab price of $7.60/lb was locked in for the year on April 25th when the market price continued to rise almost weekly after that until well into the fall.
Only the inshore fleet (which had used up its only and one price reconsideration to get the $7.60/lb) had no way to tap into that rising market, and achieve a fair price.
SEA-NL passed a resolution at our February founding convention that the regulation under the provincial government's Standing Fish Price-Setting Panel that restricts each party to one price reconsideration per species be lifted before the start of the 2022 season.
The province choose not to make any changes.
Executive Director, SEA-NL