It has crawled back somewhat, but this year’s overall catch limit for snow crab around Newfoundland and Labrador didn’t sink to a level feared by many in the industry.
So, it’s time to coil the ropes and get ready to toss the pots.
The Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s (DFO) announced Wednesday that the total allowable catch (TAC) for the Newfoundland and Labrador region for snow crab in 2019 is 26,894 tonnes — an overall quota decrease of nine per cent from 2018. The TAC in 2018 was 28,980 tonnes.
The overall decrease includes: a one per cent drop in key fishing Area 3K (northeast coast of the island, southern Labrador); a 16 per cent decrease in 3LNO (off the east coast and southeast coasts of the island); a 48 per cent increase in the 3Ps quota (along the province’s south coast); and a 39 per cent reduction in 4R3Pn (west coast and southwest corner of the island).
Trevor Jones, a crab fisherman from Green Bay, said the small decrease in Area 3K is a victory for both fish harvesters and plant workers who rallied together against a proposal by DFO to cut quotas there by up to 30 per cent.
“Fish harvesters are not interested in taking every last fish out of the water,” Jones said in a news release issued by the Fish, Food and Allied Workers-Unifor (FFAW-Unifor).
“We want a sustainable fishery and the science this year didn’t support the drastic cuts in our area suggested by DFO. We’re very pleased the department chose to take a more reasonable approach.”
A second FFAW-Unifor news release Wednesday noted that the Standing Fish Price Setting Panel sided with the union’s price of $5.38 per pound for crab this year, instead of the Association of Seafood Producers’ proposed price of $4.95 per pound.
The release stated the market for snow crab remains high and demand is strong.
In February, DFO science released the latest stock assessment for snow crab.
That information stated there were modest increases in the overall exploitable biomass of snow crab, but the stock is near its lowest observed level since the mid 1990s.
Landings of snow crab peaked in 1999. That year snow crab landings were 53,500 tonnes. Between 2007 and 2015 landings remained fairly steady, but between 2015 and 2018 snow crab catches declined by 45 per cent.
In 2018 landings were the lowest they had been in two decades, at just over 28,000 metric tonnes from all zones.
The 16 per cent decrease seen this year in Area 3LNO is the result of the exploitable biomass in the area being "severely depleted,” the science branch said. Improvements in the area are anticipated in the coming years.
Another concern that has come to light, and that DFO science shared with the media last fall, is that new biological research shows fewer male crabs are growing to a fishable size in Newfoundland and Labrador waters.
And because there are fewer large males in the snow crab population, the research has revealed, the crab are terminally molting at a small size because there is no need to grow larger to compete with large crab.
It's a condition in nature that can happen when a stock is under stress.
DFO shellfish biologists say a high fishing pressure and low population density are contributing to the situation. Continuing to fish at high levels, they say, could lead to long-term serious harm through genetic change or impaired reproductive capacity.
In 25 years of sampling the snow crab stocks around the province, it's the first time researchers have seen the occurrence to such an extreme.
The biologists said the information might come as a shock to fishermen and the industry, but it is something they must be made aware of. The positive aspect is that the phenomenon can reverse itself over time.