By NB AMDO Barry LaBillois
The Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has ordered a 63% cut in the Total Allowable Catch of snow crab in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for the 2010 season. The reduction is in response to research that uncovered a dramatic decrease in snow crab stocks, which are down 46% from last year. For “crabbers” in New Brunswick, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia believe it is a reduction that threatens their livelihoods.
The drastic decision to slash this season’s snow crab quota is the result of years of posturing, complaining, crabbing and the human weakness of greed; to take and take without any regard to the total biomass of the snow crab in and around Atlantic waters. The lesson is clear: think for the future, not only for today. According to a Dr. Mikio Moriyasu, a lead snow crab DFO scientist, “less punishing cuts had been suggested in previous years in an effort to support snow crab levels, but they were not implemented. We should have done something more drastic before, but now it is necessary. I understand the impact on the economy and everything, but if this resource is gone the impact will be felt much harder.” (Times/Transcript April 9th, 2010) Somewhere we needed to make a decision; and that happened this year.
DFO Minister Gail Shea admitted a year ago that her office failed to act on the Department’s science recommendations to reduce the Total Allowable Catch. Instead, “crabbers” in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence were permitted to harvest 29,900 tonnes in 2009, the same allocation as in 2008, despite an additional 15% drop in biomass compounded on several years of reduced biomass. “Our science told us that there should have been a small drop in the total allowable catch of snow crab, and when we met with the industry, they argued our numbers.” (Times/Transcript April 9th, 2010).
A Fisheries and Oceans report (Times/Transcript April 9th, 2010) showed a continued and rapid decrease in adult sized snow crab biomass in the Gulf of St. Lawrence from 84,900 tonnes in 2004 to less then 1/3 of that, 26,100 tonnes, in 2009. During that same period allocation has remained between 23,307 tonnes (2007) and 31,833 tonnes (2005). In fact, last years allocation of 29,900 tonnes is almost 4,000 tonnes more than this year’s total adult biomass. In addition Dr. Moriyasu warns that baby snow crab numbers are currently well below the numbers that have historically allowed the stock to regenerate. With this knowledge, a revamped “exploitation rule” was suggested by department scientists and used for the first time in setting the 2010 Total Allowable Catch for snow crab in the Gulf of St. Lawrence – a 46% reduction to just 7,700 tonnes.
Since the release of the snow crab management plans for southern gulf crab fishing areas 12, 18, 25 & 26, different fishermen’s organizations, and some Indian Act Bands and Provincial Governments affected by the reduction, have jumped on the “give me money wagon”, calling on Ottawa to provide financial support. A similar tune to the $65 million allotted for the Atlantic Lobster Sustainability Measures, announced last year. For snow crab, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has no plans to provide financial assistance to harvesters, said John Morris, Minister Shea’s Director of Communications. New Brunswick’s Fisheries Minister Rick Doucet said “removing the power of the Federal Minister to make the ultimate decision on quota levels has to be discussed.” (The Telegraph Journal April 23th, 2010) He indicated that the root of the problem for the industry is a result of dealing with old legislation. He also suggested that Canada change the Fisheries Act to limit the power of the Federal Fisheries Minister to consider scientific and industry advice about the health of the fishery.
We on the other hand contend that the problem is the industry itself, which prefers to take, take, take and take. The industry itself does not heed scientific conservation advice and resorts to political pressures and the exclusion of others from the fishery. Minister Shea has admitted to deciding against the decrease in the snow crab industry’s Total Allowable Catch in the Gulf of St. Lawrence last year, despite noting some risk to the stock expressed by Department scientists – the “crabbers” disputed the science.
The snow crab season opened on April 16 off Prince Edward Island, and early average catches of snow crab have some “crabbers” wondering if the dire predictions of Federal Government Scientists are offbase. Carter Hutt, President of the Prince Edward Island Snow Crab Fishermen’s Group, said “the Island’s 28 “crabbers” are hauling in 40 to 60 kilograms per trap, which is more than last year. At least three snow crab fishermen have already caught their quota and brought their traps back to shore. For now, snow crab fishermen are enjoying their solid early returns, but they may become more concerned in a week or two, when their quotas are exhausted.” (CBC News April 26th, 2010) Lawrence MacAulay, Member of Parliament for Cardigan in eastern P.E.I., said DFO needs to look at the quota again. “What we need to find out, No. 1 is to make sure that their (sic) figures are correct. Who did what, when and how did they get this conclusion? If the conclusion is wrong, we want it adjusted right away. If it’s right, why did this happen? Sixty three percent is a devastating blow to the industry.” (CBC News April 26th, 2010) said MacAulay.
From the perspective of the Native Council of Prince Edward Island and the New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council community of Traditional Ancestral Homelands Mi’Kmaq/Aboriginal Peoples, as rights holders who presently are excluded from the Snow Crab fishery with a “0 quota”, the drastic 2010 cut is good news. Let us rebuild the snow crab stocks in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence today, so maybe after a snow crab stock rebuild, our two communities, as rights holders, will be provided a share of snow crab quota, so that our communities can begin to improve their economic situation – at least those who will have a chance to harvest crab.