ASP calls out alleged 'intimidation' of crab harvesters who want to fish for $2.20 per pound

·4 min read
Jeff Loder is the executive director of the Association of Seafood Producers. He told the media on Tuesday that he's concerned about reports of 'intimidation' of snow crab harvesters who want to fish for $2.20 a pound. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Jeff Loder is the executive director of the Association of Seafood Producers. He told the media on Tuesday that he's concerned about reports of 'intimidation' of snow crab harvesters who want to fish for $2.20 a pound. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)

The 2023 snow crab season started with a promise between the fisheries union and the processors association to work together — something akin to the Hatfields and McCoys striking a truce.

It did not last long.

Now three weeks into the snow crab fishery, not a single pound of the 10-legged species has been taken from the water, as fishermen protest what they consider a catastrophic price of $2.20 per pound.

On Tuesday, Association of Seafood Producers executive director Jeff Loder called on the fish harvesters to get their boats in the water before it was too late.

"The longer the fishery is delayed, the greater impact it has on the premium product Newfoundland seafood is known for," he said. "It's time to get the fishery started. There's too many livelihoods that depend on it."

Loder said the ASP has not changed its position on pricing since the organization's last update a week ago. Many of his talking points remained the same on Tuesday, but one thing stood out.

Loder called out "intimidation and harassment" levelled at fish harvesters who have expressed a willingness to fish for $2.20 a pound rather than sit out the season any longer.

"We have been informed that there are harvesters who want to begin fishing however they have not begun for reasons that should cause Newfoundlanders and Labradorians great concern," he said.

He wouldn't specify who was doing the harassing, or if he was calling out the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW) or its members with his remark, but said he believes there's a large number of harvesters who want to go fishing crab.

"[Some harvesters] are afraid of what might happen. There's a lot of chatter on social media and there's no place for that in any workplace in 2023." he said.

Loder said the ASP is willing to stick with the price-setting panel's ruling of $2.20, despite the market turning even further south since then. When the price was set in early April, the market price was at $5.75 US, and has since fallen to $4.75. Under the current rules, the ASP has a right to file for a reconsideration, which would likely result in an even lower price for fish harvesters.

"We know this is not an easy time for harvesters in the snow crab fishery and to demonstrate our sincerity to the FFAW and its members, we provided written confirmation to the FFAW that ASP would not seek a reconsideration on the price of snow crab for 21 days effective Friday, April 28," he said.

3-week plan would be disastrous, says FFAW

The FFAW held a news conference of its own on Tuesday where president Greg Pretty said he was disappointed by Loder's comments.

"What he's outlined here is a recipe for absolute economic disaster for the province," Pretty said.

"He'll guarantee $2.20 [a pound] for three weeks? That's fine, to some people. But what happens after three weeks? It's most likely after three weeks they'll ask for a reconsideration, where the bulk of the industry will be fishing for far less than $2.20."

Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

Pretty said multiple times he knows crab fishermen would rather go bankrupt on the wharf than fish at $2.20 per pound. Although there is pressure to fish, he added, accusations of harassment and bullying are a two-way street.

"We've been threatened as a union. … When I get a threat, whether it be on staff or council or bargaining committees, I take it very seriously," he said. "It's an issue, but we have to move past that."

Asked if harvesters will have to go fishing at some point, Pretty said the fishery will start once both sides reach a deal. He said it will take time and money to get the fishery going but believes the consequences could be dire if they don't.

"We have harvesters that are running out of EI also," he said. "Whether it's $2.20 or whatever it is, they're going to be in very tough financial shape and I think we're looking at bankruptcies. In fact I know we're looking at bankruptcies."

Pretty called on the province to step in to help find a resolution — saying Fisheries Minister Derrick Bragg should be a regulator and not a spectator.

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