Snow crab harvesters prepared to stay on land as fisheries minister justifies secret ballot letter

·4 min read
Snow crab harvesters have stayed off the water for three weeks in search of a better price, and say they're ready to continue waiting. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Snow crab harvesters have stayed off the water for three weeks in search of a better price, and say they're ready to continue waiting. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada
Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada

Snow crab harvesters in Newfoundland say they're still holding out on this year's season in search of a better price, even after the province's fisheries minister urged the Fish, Food & Allied Workers union to ask fishermen if they want to be on the water.

"We're at a standstill now. We can't go fishing because right now the price, I mean it's just too low at $2.20 a pound. It's just not feasible to catch right now," Jamie Stack, a snow crab fisherman in Petty Harbour, told CBC News Thursday.

"So right now I guess it's just hold out."

Stack and other harvesters spoke in response to a letter sent by Fisheries Minister Derrick Bragg to the FFAW on Wednesday, asking the union to hold a secret ballot vote to see if snow crab harvesters are ready to fish at $2.20 per pound as other provinces fish at similar prices.

Speaking with reporters at Confederation Building Thursday, Bragg said he sent the letter to gauge interest in getting back on the water. He said his phone and email are full with messages from harvesters saying they want to fish.

"A secret ballot would outline it then, where we stand. I mean if you look at it now it's been a full month since we've been shut down. It's a month since the rest of Atlantic Canada's been fishing. They've been fishing for roughly the same price," Bragg said.

"I'd love nothing more than to see the markets go up and see a spike in this fishery, but I fear as time goes on we may lose the season. We can't afford to lose the season."

Stack said he doesn't think much of the request, adding it doesn't make sense for him to be on the water at $2.20 per pound.

Bay Bulls fisherman Jason Sullivan said he doesn't have an issue with holding a vote, but sided with the FFAW in saying the vote could undermine union leadership and contradict the Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act.

Bragg debated that claim, saying he wouldn't have written the letter if he thought it was problematic.

"This is my way of saying … let's use every avenue possible to see if we can resolve this," Bragg said.

WATCH | Fisheries Minister Derrick Bragg speaks with reporters:

Sullivan also claimed Bragg is being disingenuous in his offer, as harvesters know market prices will only lower if they get back on the water. When the price was set in early April, the market price was at $5.75 US, and has since fallen to $4.65.

"Now they couldn't pay $3 when it was $5.75, but they can still pay $2.20 when it's dropped a dollar. So, you know, all we're asking for is honesty," Sullivan said.

"For [Bragg] to say that so nonchalantly, that 'Oh, have a vote and go fishing for $2.20,' it's not the truth. You're not going to be fishing for $2.20 for very long. You're going to be fishing for $2.20 for a week or two, and then bango, they're going back to the panel."

Sullivan said fishing for snow crab would likely drive the price down further if adding the 130 million pounds of Newfoundland crab into the market, but isn't sure how far it could fall.

Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

He said a best-case scenario could involve locking the price at $2.20 per pound for the season, but said it could lower to under $2 — or closer to his break-even price of $1.50.

"No one wants to work to break even and you know people are recognizing that well maybe if we have to sit this season out in order to create a higher demand for next year, where we can get up to three or four bucks, that may be what we have to do. Nobody knows," he said.

Stack saod he's not sure how much longer he can hold out, but echoed it doesn't make sense to fish at $2.20.

"Everybody is going to feel the sting," he said. "If I hold out on fishing, well, I'm probably going to have to find another source of income."

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