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Declining snow crab biomass could mean more struggles for plant workers

Bonavista OCI Fish Plant.
Bonavista OCI Fish Plant. - file photo

Worry building in places like Bonavista


The latest study on snow crab, released by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) this week, is causing worry among those who work in the industry.

A new report by scientists from DFO, using information gathered over a six-year period, says the biomass of snow crab is the lowest it’s been in 25 years.

While the federal department is not talking about quota cuts just yet — those decisions are usually made in the Spring — a plant worker in Bonavista says the 2019 season could be a struggle. 

Local FFAW union president for Bonavista's OCI Plant, Barry Randell.
Local FFAW union president for Bonavista's OCI Plant, Barry Randell.

Barry Randell is president of the Fish Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union local at the Ocean Choice International (OCI) plant in Bonavista.

About 300 people work at that plant; 270 of them on the seniority list, as well as management and casual workers.

“Any more reduction, you know it’s going to have an impact,” Randell told The Packet on Friday., noting over the last two years fishing quotas for crab were reduced by 42 per cent.

“So any more cuts on top of that is going to mean less work, less people at the plant.”

While the plant is a multi-species facility, processing some turbot and capelin, it primarily relies on the crab processing.

“The other (species) were a help to us this year, no doubt, but you can’t depend on that,” said Randell.

According to Randell one of the boats that supplied the plant since 1993 — the Katrina Charlene — which fishes upwards of 300 miles offshore, brought about a million pounds of crab to the plant just three years ago.

“Last year it got that bad it just quit. There was nothing out there,” Randell says. “It don’t look bright; let’s put it that way.”

According to Randell, OCI is trying to shift back to processing cod at the facility.

“This year turned out to be a real good year for cod,” says Randell, despite the fact the cod quota was cut by 30 percent for the 2018 season.

Randell adds, everyone on the plant’s seniority list managed to get enough hours of work to qualify for seasonal employment insurance.

However, for some workers on the second shift, it was tough.

The company stepped in to make sure the employees got enough hours to quality for EI benefits, even if it wasn’t all work on the processing lines.

“OCI helped out a lot of people on the end of it because there wasn’t no crab on the go, but they gave them some work around the plant — painting, cleaning — gave people (enough) hours to qualify them,” says Randell.

With the 42 per cent cuts over the past two years, Randell says any further drops in snow crab quotas would be challenging — it’s simple math.

“You know it’s going to have an impact if it’s so bad as what (DFO) says it is.

“There was worry in the plant last year … we had a tough year last year. Trying to get work, it was difficult. I keep saying less crab means less work but that’s just the reality.”

Snow crab landings in this province peaked at 53,000 tones in 1999, and have been in decline since due to gradual quota cuts.

Still, it is the highest value fishery for the province; according to a 2015 report by the province on fish export values, snow crab was the most valuable seafood export for the province that year at over $376 million.

This past season, while landings were just over 28,000 metric tonnes, snow crab was still the most valuable fishery in the province, with a landed value of just over $295 million, thanks to a better than average price of just over $4 per pound.

The only fishery that came close to that in landed value was shrimp, at just over $200 million.

In November, DFO managers will be travelling the province to meet with snow crab fishers to talk about the 2019 season, and the scenarios that could come into play. One of those meetings will be held in Clarenville.

To read more about snow crab, check out these stories from past editions:

Twitter: @jejparsons

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