Fisheries minister defends rare decision to overturn board on new crab licences

·3 min read
Only two new processing licences for snow crab were approved by Fisheries Minister Derrick Bragg earlier this week. ( Fish, Food and Allied Workers - image credit)
Only two new processing licences for snow crab were approved by Fisheries Minister Derrick Bragg earlier this week. ( Fish, Food and Allied Workers - image credit)
 Fish, Food and Allied Workers
Fish, Food and Allied Workers

The chair of Newfoundland and Labrador's Fish Processing Licensing Board is speaking out after Fisheries Minister Derrick Bragg overruled the board and denied coveted crab licences for plants in two communities.

Reg Anstey said the board's recommendations on snow crab licences were made over more than a year of research and meetings with scientists in the fishery, adding the independent board's mandate is to assess the entire industry without a political lens.

The board had recommended that four processing plants receive snow crab licences — St. Mary's Bay Fisheries, Dandy Dan's in Argentia, Bay Roberts Seafoods and HSF Ocean Products in O'Donnells.

However, Bragg only approved crab licences for two of the plants, in St. Mary's and in Argentia.

"Our board is a board that recommends, and he ultimately makes the final decisions. But obviously as a board, we're clearly disappointed," Anstey told CBC Radio's The Broadcast.

Anstey, a veteran of the fisheries labour movement, said he could not remember a minister going against a board recommendation.

Submitted by Reg Anstey
Submitted by Reg Anstey

The board looks at a series of factors in coming up with their recommendations, Anstey said, including stock health, regional processing, a plant's adjacency to the resource, and the economics of the industry, including corporate concentration.

With all the evidence the board had gathered and signs of a healthy stock from scientists, Anstey said the board was comfortable with its recommendations, which focused on smaller, independent operations.

"When the board looked at all of that, we looked at a 110 million quota overall, the maximum that these plants would use would be less than 10 million [pounds]," he said.

"We felt that these plants opening up would not infringe one bit on existing plants in terms of the work for Newfoundlanders employed in the crab industry."

Bragg: 'I feel comfortable in making this decision'

Speaking with CBC News, Bragg said he was not surprised there was opposition to his decisions.

"Some people might say it's unusual to go outside the recommendations…but I certainly don't want there to be an overcapacity of fishing licences or processing plants," he said.

"We saw that years ago. Many have closed down, and we don't need to set people up for a failure."

Bragg defended his decisions on the plants in Bay Roberts or O'Donnell's, saying more crab licences in the region would likely take workers or crab away from what is already there.

Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

In particular, he said he wants to ensure current plant workers are able to get the minimum work they need to apply for employment insurance at season's end.

"There's seven plants in the area — do you need to have nine?" he asked.

"I didn't want any of the current fish plants out there, and any employees, to lose any hours of work. There's no point for us to generate multiple plants when most then wouldn't be inshore by the end of the season."

For now, Bragg said he is unlikely to change his mind, saying the decisions are in the best interests of the industry.

"Time will tell I guess if this was the right move or not, but I feel comfortable in making this decision."

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