After tentative crab deal falls apart, fishermen settle in to wait for a better price
After a tentative agreement between Newfoundland and Labrador crab fishermen and processors fell apart, the province's harvesters are left wondering when — or if — they'll get back out on the water.
St. John's crab fisherman Keith Boland said he and his fellow harvesters won't accept a deal that sticks to $2.20 per pound, as decided by the provincial price-setting panel.
"The $2.20 is still the major issue, and it will be, time going forward," he said.
On Friday, Fish Food & Allied Workers president Greg Pretty said a tentative deal had been reached with the Association of Seafood Producers: the $2.20 price would be locked in for the season, rather than the association requesting a lower price if the market continues to decline.
But to prevent a glut of crab arriving at plants for processing, the deal would also include trip limits, with monetary penalties for fisherman who catch more than the trip limit. Calling it a union "slush fund," Boland said fishermen won't accept that.
"It's all bad enough at $2.20 a pound," he said. "We come in with 200 pounds over and now we gotta write a cheque to the union, so apparently that wasn't going to fly."
Provincial Fisheries Minister Derrick Bragg said Monday afternoon he was disappointed to see a second tentative deal go down the drain.
"I'm at a loss to where we go from here, to be honest," he said, adding a "cooling-off" period might improve the situation.
"I'm assuming that Mr. Pretty is deflated as what we are and ASP is," he said. "When they're ready, we're ready to be back and involved, bringing a mediator if we need to."
Provincial Opposition leader David Brazil said Monday that the government needs to be more involved, and more open about what's been happening with negotiations.
"We're into Week 3 now without this vital fishery being active here," he said. "Why it went off the rails, we're not really sure because we're not privy to that. We don't know, and the minister and the premier hasn't been sharing the information of exactly, you know, who's at the table, what the discussions are, what's the biggest stumbling block here."
The premier needs to be front and centre, said Brazil.
"He has to sit there and take a leadership role to ensure that people sit at the table and find a solution that's going to work for all of those in the industry. It's too important to the people of this province."
Neither the union nor the producers' association were commenting Monday.
Boland said most harvesters want to to stick it out a couple more weeks to see if the market price improves, but he's not sure how long fishermen can hold out. Lobster season opens Tuesday he said, and he plans to head out with his crew.
"It's not a lucrative fishery, it's more of a hobby," he said. "But I have crew members, their unemployment [insurance] is up, maybe they'll make a week's pay at it. We have to do what he have to do."
In the meantime, he said, both sides need to work something out soon.
"If two parties don't sit down again, that's ASP and our union representing the fish harvesters, and come up with some solution, this is going to be a big mess."