Protest averted as Newfoundland and Labrador premier helps reach pricing deal on crab

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — A potentially volatile dispute over Newfoundland and Labrador's crab fishery has been averted with the help of Premier Andrew Furey.

Late on Sunday, Furey helped negotiate a pricing agreement between crab fishers and seafood processors that will allow for the annual season to get started, the provincial government said in a statement.

The deal between the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union, which represents inshore fishers, and the Association of Seafood Producers sets the minimum price for the 2024 crab fishery at $3.00 per pound, 15 per cent higher than the $2.60 per pound chosen by a government-appointed price-setting panel on April 1.

“I have been fully seized with working to support both the FFAW and the ASP in reaching an agreement to commence the 2024 crab fishery in a timely manner," Furey said in a statement. "I am pleased to see the two parties were able to come to an agreement.”

Prices paid to fishers for their catch are decided each year by the panel, which set the opening price last year at $2.20 a pound, prompting frustrated crab harvesters to leave their boats tied up for six weeks.

Last year and again this year, tempers flared because crab fishers were earning more than $7 per pound during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On April 8, two days after the crab season opened, fishers tied up their boats, saying the price being offered for their catches was too low to make a living.

Last week, the fishers said they planned to stage a protest Monday outside the provincial legislature, where the same group last month was involved in rowdy confrontations that forced the temporary closure of the building — and the postponement of the tabling of the provincial budget.

With a deal now in place, the latest protest was called off.

“This is an historic pricing agreement for harvesters in our province; restoring fairness in the crab fishery and giving harvesters a sharing arrangement they have not seen in a long time," union president Greg Pretty said in a statement.

"We’re very pleased about the progress made here … and thank Premier Furey for ensuring the fishery gets off the ground as quickly as possible for the benefit of all those involved.”

Paul Grant, chairman of the Association of Seafood Producers, said the agreement marked "a positive day for Newfoundland and Labrador, particularly for plant workers, processors and harvesters."

Crab harvesters say the formula used by the price-setting panel doesn't give them a fair share of the market, highlighting what they say is a systemic problem in the fishery: it's set up to favour seafood processors, and harvesters can't make a living.

Under the new deal, the $3.00 floor price will remain in place for the entire season. But harvesters could make more money at the end of the season when an independent review of sales could lead to additional payments.

Snow crab has been one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s most valuable seafood exports, accounting for $883 million of the $1.6 billion generated by the province’s fisheries in 2021.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2024.

The Canadian Press