Overall 9% snow crab quota decrease, but one area gets 48% boost

A snow crab fisher on the south coast of Newfoundland is happy to hear that his area is getting a 48 per cent quota increase for this upcoming season.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans released its decision on Wednesday, which outlined an overall nine per cent decrease for the catch.

Fishers will get $5.38 a pound for their catch, as well, the price suggestion put forward by the union.

Calvin Young, who fishes in the 3Ps area and lands his catch in Branch, said he's happy to see the big quota boost for his area, but it's not as big as it sounds.

I don't think we ever should have been this low that we had to get a 50 per cent increase. - Calvin Young

"You think it's a major increase, and a lot of people do, but it's really not," he told CBC Radio's The Broadcast.

Young has been fishing in the south coast area since 1984, when he headed out onto the water with his father, and bought a longliner to catch crab in 1989.

Over the years, he's seen the ebb and flow of the snow crab stock in the water, which he said seem to be cyclical.

"It's like catching rabbits in the country. You'll get five or six good years catching rabbits and they slow right down, and it seems to me like crab in our area is the same way," he said. 

He said 2011 and 2012 were "really strong years," but didn't last long.

"Catch rates were phenomenal, like as good as you get anywhere in Newfoundland, and then in '13 they slowed down, '14 they got slower, and '15 was really bad … but '16 was the worst we've ever seen," he said.

"I'm gonna say there was less than 50 per cent of the overall quota caught."

'Everyone's quite relieved'

Young said the stock started rebounding in 2017 and they had "really good catch rates" in 2018, but it's all relative to how much they were allowed to catch.

"We took big cuts," Young said. "We went from, in 2011, we had 96,000 pounds on a licence, and then in 2017 we had 17,500 pounds on a licence."

So when you hear a 48 per cent increase to a quota, it doesn't necessarily mean a lot of crab.

Jane Adey/CBC

"Everyone's quite relieved, but still, in the back of our minds, we don't think we ever should have been cut down to 17,000," Young said. "I don't think, even though we're getting a 50 per cent increase, I don't think we ever should have been this low that we had to get a 50 per cent increase."

Meanwhile, Trevor Jones, an FFAW crab committee member, said there was a 20 per cent quota cut in the 3K area, in the Baie Verte region.

"It's certainly a big loss to fish harvesters and plant workers, but they recognized that their stock was down a little and they agree with the percentage cut, so overall they're trying to be good stewards of the fishery," he said.

"It's not uncommon, one area might have to take a cut … and some more might go up, that's always been the norm."

But in the meantime, both Young and Jones are optimistic, and looking forward to getting out on the water.

Jones said overall, the announcement Wednesday was a "good news story," especially with the setting of such a high price for crab, at $5.38 a pound.

"It's a really good price, the market's certainly prepared to be able to hold that," he said. "It should be, hopefully, a relatively smooth season."

"Everything is looking really good. Recruitment is up as high as we've ever seen, so it's looking really good for the next few years," Young added.

"All positive for us now."

If all goes according to plan and weather allows, Young said he and dozens of other crab fishers will head out on the water over the weekend.

"I'd say everybody's pretty well ready to go now," Young said. "The season's open Monday, so weather permitting, I'd say you'll have 90 per cent of the boats on the water Sunday."

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