DFO slashes crab quota in latest blow to N.L. fishing industry

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N.L. fishermen worried after double-whammy of snow crab, shrimp announcements

In yet another blow to the Newfoundland and Labrador fishing industry, federal fisheries has announced that the total allowable catch for snow crab will be cut by 22 per cent this year.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced Monday that the quota for the region has been set at 35,419 tonnes.

The largest hit is in fishing area 3L, east of the Avalon Peninsula, where the bulk of the quota is harvested.

Harvesters there will endure a 26 per cent cut in quota, down to less than 25,000 tonnes.

The cut was expected, with scientists saying the resource has plummeted in recent years, but that's little comfort to the thousands of harvesters and plant workers who depend on the fishery.

"Newfoundland and Labrador is facing a pivotal moment in the fisheries," Keith Sullivan, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union, said in a new release.

The crab plan comes just four days after DFO announced a 63 per cent cut to the northern shrimp quota, a measure that will likely result in the closure of some processing plants, and threaten the viability of dozens of fishing enterprises.

It's all coming together to form a perfect storm for the industry, with scientists also confirming recently that a return to a large-scale commercial cod fishery is years away.

Sullivan said cuts to both crab and shrimp quotas will "have grave economic impacts felt in communities and towns around the province."

He said harvesters, plant workers and entire communities are reliant on the inshore fishing industry.

"Enterprise owners face personal bankruptcy, hundreds to thousands of people face job losses, and rural communities risk future sustainability."

Not properly handled

Sullivan questioned whether the transition from an industry dependent on shellfish to one pinning its future on a return to groundfish is being handled properly.

He said the resource decline is not due to overfishing, but an environmental shift in the ecosystem.

"As groundfish stocks rebuild, it is expected that shellfish stocks in the area will continue to decline. DFO must work more closely with harvesters and take changes to the ecosystem into consideration when managing the fishery," he said.

"Species are not independent of each other."

Sullivan has requested a meeting with federal fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc to "impress upon him how these decisions are failing the people of our province."

Meanwhile, price negotiations for snow crab are still underway.

An arbitrator is deciding whether to accept the union's proposal of $4.39 per pound, or the $4.10 suggested by processing companies.

"Higher prices will offset some of the effects quota cuts will have on harvesters, but there is still a need for DFO to work more closely with harvesters in managing the resource," Sullivan said.