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Little Port Harmon fish harvesters upset with quota cuts

Fishers Chad Hickey, left; and Jason Reader lift a crate of crabs from the Long Cove Pride onto the wharf at Little Port Harmon on Sunday.
Fishers Chad Hickey, left; and Jason Reader lift a crate of crabs from the Long Cove Pride onto the wharf at Little Port Harmon on Sunday. - Frank Gale
STEPHENVILLE, N.L. —

Some fish harvesters out of Little Port Harmon in Stephenville believe their quota cuts are not justified after filling their allowable catch in just one haul.

They say quotas were cut by 50 per cent in 2018 and another 25 per cent this fishing season, and longtime fish harvester Kirby Coates said with that it’s hard to make a living at it.

“They (DFO) keep cutting us despite there being plenty of crab out there (St. George’s Bay),” Coates said.

The science branch of Fisheries and Oceans Canada of DFO said the department set the total allowable catch for snow crab with a view to maintaining the stock biomass around its current level.

Jason Reader, who has his own licence but went out the first day of the season with Renny Hickey on the Long Cove Pride, said they set pots on Saturday at 8 a.m. and 21 hours later they hauled their pots with 20 to 30 pounds of crab in each.

“How can you make a living off 1,900 pounds?” Reader asked.

The emailed response from DFO said while there have been modest increases in crab in some divisions, the amount of recruitment (or new shelled crab becoming available to the fishery) is anticipated to remain low in most divisions in 2019, including the Bay St. George area.

The department said researchers observed a sharp decline in the proportion of male crab reaching fishable size in most divisions, and this may impact short-term prospects for recruitment of crab to the fishery.

Reader said the problem is that when fishers are instructed to put out test pots for a survey, they’re instructed to put them in places where they know there is not much crab.

He said there should be more smaller-mesh pots in the strings because the small crab are getting out, so you don’t get the right indication of what’s there.

Regarding this Post-Season Trap Survey, the department said this is being transitioned from an initiative solely designed to measure the fishery toward a more representative and scientifically sound survey.

The survey methods will eventually reflect other crab surveys conducted by DFO Science.

Changes include randomizing some assessed sites in areas not routinely fished and incorporating more small-mesh pots into the survey.

The survey changes are a result of previous stock assessments that found the Post-Season Trap Survey to be unreliable in measuring recruitment and are being implemented with support and collaboration from harvester representatives from the Fish Food and Allied Workers union.

The department said its happy to hear the industry is interested in setting more small-mesh pots as this is consistent with their other crab surveys. In recent years more small-mesh pots have been added and the goal is to have a small-mesh pot included at every station soon and eventually multiple small-mesh pots at every station.

It said this is a process and they are getting there and will continue working with the FFAW on transitioning and bettering this important survey.

This year, all science advice was based on data from original survey areas and the new random site data were not incorporated.

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