Fishery workers in Newfoundland and Labrador are concerned about Japan purchasing snow crab from Russia and decreasing purchasing from Atlantic Canada, where there is still crab left over from the 2022 season.
While many countries are imposing sanctions on Russia as a result of the war in Ukraine, Japan is taking advantage of low Russian snow crab prices.
Clifford Small, MP for Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame and federal fisheries critic, says that is preventing Newfoundland and Labrador processors from selling their crab to Japan, as they normally do.
Small said he was made aware in May that Japan was making large purchases of Russian crab, "and that they'd walked away from our product here, basically."
He said there were times where Japan bought up to 50 per cent of the snow crab that was produced in the province.
"To have one of our major markets dry up on us, and to dry up in a sense that basically they started buying from a country like Russia — that's at war in Ukraine — flies in the face of what you'd expect from a great trading partner and an ally," he said.
Small added that Japan only has two per cent inflation right now, which could be a reason for the change in purchase.
"They've been going out, they've been buying the cheapest products. They are trying to do the best for their consumers that they can, but I think that where we're such close trading partners and allies that I think [it] would be in the best interest of everybody if they come back to the table and start purchasing Canadian crab," he said.
As for concerns, Small said that when he brought this to the attention of federal Minister of Fisheries Joyce Murray in October, she was not aware of it. He said that 30 per cent of what would have been purchased last year is still in cold storage.
"We need movement on this right now, the upcoming season is not that far away," said Small.
"Now if our traditional market in Japan had been there, those inventories would be empty."
'They're undercutting us'
Paul Grant, chair of the Association of Seafood Producers, says that the sanctions are not about Newfoundland and Labrador crab, but about the war in Ukraine.
Grant said that the typical market in Japan is being displaced by Russian crab, where there is limited opportunity to sell their crab.
He said the market is competitive, even though Japan buying Russian crab is not new.
"If we try to sell something at $7, they'll say $6.50. So they're undercutting us and displacing us from that market," said Grant.
He said over the past 10 years, about 9,000 tonnes of snow crab went to Japan.
"In 2022, it was less than 3,000. So it's a serious issue forcing us now to focus on one market in the U.S.," he said.
With the left over inventory from the 2022 season and the decline in purchase, he said the producers will lose, "well over $100 million."
Federal level problem
"It's going to be a very, very challenging negotiating session this year to get the fishery going," said Grant.
"The sanctions are, you know, they have to be about … the Ukraine war. It's not about Newfoundland snow crab, but it does have serious consequences. The fact that the Japan is not participating in those sanctions is having serious consequences for Newfoundland. So it's an unintended side effect and it certainly should be raised at the federal level."
Grant said that the driving force behind the fishery is snow crab.
Ken McDonald, MP for the Avalon, said "I think we should do everything we can to make sure Japan ceases buying crab from Russia because lots of it available in Canada and other places."
Small said that Newfoundland and Labrador needs to get back into the Japanese market and he wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to advocate for the fishing industry of Atlantic Canada. He said that Trudeau should be talking to the Japanese prime minister about the issue.