FFAW Secretary-Treasurer Jason Spingle. – Submitted photo to Wreckhouse Press Inc. Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

On Friday, May 19, the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture announced that an agreement had been reached to start the 2023 crab fishery.

Premier Andrew Furey met with leadership in Fish Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW) and the Association of Seafood Producers (ASP) where the decision was made to move forward with the 2023 crab fishery.

“Our government recognizes this has been a challenging time for the hard-working people who power Newfoundland and Labrador’s significant crab fishery. It was important to reach an agreement to ensure we do not lose the 2023 season, and I thank all parties for working together to achieve this goal,” said Premier Furey.

The global market for snow crab this season is difficult, but within the agreement the following was established regarding snow crab prices:

• $2.20 to start, and as the minimum price for the season

• $2.25 at $4.85

• $2.30 at $4.95

• $2.60 at $5.50

• $2.75 at $6.00

• Reconsideration after $6.01

The parties involved also agree that they will meet weekly in order to establish and enforce workable trip limits.

“We’re pleased and relieved that we have reached an agreement with the FFAW for the 2023 crab season. It’s been a troubling few weeks faced with much uncertainty, but we are confident that we can still have a successful fishery, with public safety top of mind,” said Jeff Loder, Executive Director of ASP.

“We are eager to start processing crab, and to provide meaningful employment to the thousands of plant workers that rely on the industry, and we are looking forward to exporting premium quality snow crab that will be enjoyed worldwide.”

Over 17,500 people from over 400 communities across the province are employed by the industry, with snow crab being the most valuable seafood product exported annually. Total landings equated to 50,470 tonnes in 2022 and the fish and seafood products in Newfoundland and Labrador are exported to more than 40 countries worldwide.

“The decision came primarily through our negotiating committee, and that’s harvesters from throughout the province, and it wasn’t unanimous, but the majority did agree, what I would say, reluctantly with this agreement,” said Jason Spingle, Secretary-Treasurer with FFAW.

“It’s going to be a very, very difficult year and we feel that some of the companies have other agendas that aren’t in good faith, and the premier, at the end of the day, said they would try to help out, so we’ll see where it goes, I guess.”

Spingle said the difficulties for snow crab this season could be attributed to the primary market index for crab.

“The Urner Barry Index, which is an American index, that was on a lower level when we started negotiating,” said Spingle.

“We’re at an Urner Barry that I don’t think we have seen in a long, long time. It went from $5.75 at the time for the price down to, for Newfoundland crab, to $4.65, and for Gulf crab, that was at only $4.85, so very low Urner Barry index. We know interest rates are up, inflation is up, and that means issues with the economy. The volume of crab is up everywhere in the past three years. There was a very significant increase in 2020 and again in 2022, so there’s a very high supply with some economic issues. That’s why we’re seeing a lot of these issues with snow crab.”

Taking too long to come to a decision about the snow crab fishery would’ve come with it’s own set of problems.

“There’s issues like the later you go, you lose some of the potential. When some of the crab molts, softshell crab, the price declines because you get warming of the water as the season goes on, you can get a decline in the price and I think that’s just the nature of the animal,” explained Spingle.

“These type of factors, I don’t know if there’s any definitive proof for them, but they certainly happen. And then the other issue is, there was no guarantee or any kind of really strong indication that development would help out. So people were saying, ‘Well, what will we do here?’ It’s going to be extremely difficult. We’re talking about two thirds decrease in income, but we’ve got to try and make the best out of it, out of a very difficult situation, and that’s what this is.”

Springle said that a change of this magnitude is something no one can really prepare for.

“People understand that there are ups and downs in the fishery, but no one forecasted this major industry, which is the biggest crab fishery in the world, certainly the most significant industry in terms of value and number of harvesters, what it means to all the plant workers and all the service industries in the province as a whole to basically go from $6.50 down to about $2.20, overnight, unexpectedly. That’s a precarious situation to say the least,” said Spingle.

With such a significant blow to the snow crab fishery, the worry remains that these issues could bleed into next season.

“We’ve got a really good situation with the resource. The resource was very healthy for the short term for sure. I would say even the medium term. I don’t expect any quota decreases for the next two years. That’s myself. Things could happen though,” admitted Spingle.

“Prospects for the economy, I’m no economist, but I can just follow the news. I don’t suspect that a lot of these inflation and interest rate issues aren’t going to change overnight either. So the concern is, certainly, that this is not a short, one-year issue for the industry.”

The most important takeaway is that harvesters want to make sure that they are compensated eqitably for their catch.

“All harvesters want is to know that they’re getting a fair share, and that’s poses a big, open question, what is a fair share? But we’ve got a good idea of what it is and that’s why the Urner Barry is just an index. That doesn’t say what the crab is actually being sold for, for sure, by companies,” explained Spingle.

“We need a system where, and we’re not saying an individual company has to tell us exactly what they’re doing, but collectively, if you take want to take, say, four or five licensed companies, and have an auditor do some kind of index, some kind of audit and get an index in retrospect on exactly what the sales were, that would give harvesters a lot more confidence that whatever the numbers are, they’d get a certain share of that and they’d know they’re working with the real sale information.”

By Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 05, 2023 at 06:00

This item reprinted with permission from    Wreckhouse Weekly News    Port aux Basques, Newfoundland
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