Dire Predictions for N.L. Crab and Shrimp Stocks

Scientists at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) are painting bleak pictures for the upcoming 2017 snow crab and Northern shrimp seasons off Newfoundland.

Many in the industry are anticipating cuts to the snow crab quotas and another big hit to the already beleaguered shrimp fishery. And if the DFO quota regulators take the advice of their science colleagues, both valuable fisheries are destined for cuts during the 2017 season.

DFO snow crab lead Dr. Darrell Mullowney said the fishable biomass off Newfoundland (NAFO areas 2HJ3KLNOP4R) is now at its lowest observed level — after declining 80 per cent since 2013. Even more troubling is the stock has declined 40 per cent from 2015 to 2016.

  • 2HL: Biomass demonstrated increase in 2014, but a declined by half since then.
  • 3K: Biomass has declined since 2008 to the lowest observed levels in the past two years.
  • 3LNO: Biomass has declined since 2013 to an historic low — down 50 per cent from 2015-2016 and between 27-74 per cent in some management areas.
  • 3L (inshore): Declined by a third in 2016. This reflected decreases ranging from 12-46 per cent in various management areas.
  • 3Ps: The exploitable biomass index declined by 88 per cent since 2010 to a series low in 2016.
  • 4R3Pn: The post-season trap survey biomass most recently peaked in 2011 and has since gradually declined reflecting patterns in most surveyed areas.

DFO scientist Darrell Mullowney

Snow crab landings recently peaked at 53,500 tonnes in 2009 and have since gradually declined to 42,000 tonnes in 2016. Divisions 3LNO have accounted for about 80 per cent of the landings in recent years. Fishery catch rates were at or near historical lows in most divisions in 2016.

Despite the pessimism surrounding snow crab, the plight of shrimp might be even worse this year.

After suffering a 42 per cent quota cut last year, it looks as though the Northern shrimp fishery off Newfoundland’s northeast coast will soon be receiving another major hit.

DFO scientists recently announced that in the all-important SFA 6, the fishable shrimp biomass index declined from 785,000 tonnes in 2006 to 104,000 tonnes in 2016. There was a 25 per cent decline between 2015 and 2016.

This continued decrease now places the SFA 6 biomass in the critical zone — with a DFO recommended harvest or exploitation rate of only 10 per cent.

Last year, the total allowable catch in SFA 6 was reduced by 42.3 per cent from 2015/16 level of 48,196 tonnes to 27,825 tonnes.

DFO science also released the biomass totals for SFA 4 and 5 — results not near as detrimental as in area 6.

In SFA 5, the fishable biomass index has decreased by 27 per cent, from 149,000 tonnes in 2015 to 110,000 tonnes in 2016.

In the more northerly SFA 4, between 2005 and 2012, the fishable biomass index ranged between 76,600 tonnes and 164,000 tonnes and in 2016 was 95,300 tonnes.

DFO scientists are blaming the drastic drop in both biomasses on a combination of warming water temperatures and a dramatic increase in groundfish numbers.

While most industry stakeholders are anxiously awaiting the release of the 2017 crab and shrimp quotas, not everyone has absolute faith in the DFO stock assessments.

The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL) is calling for an independent, external review of the management/science capabilities of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in relation to the reported dramatic decline of key stocks off Newfoundland and Labrador.

DFO scientist Katherine Skanes

“The picture right now for our harvesters is bleaker than the moratorium,” says Ryan Cleary, president of FISH-NL. “When cod stocks collapsed in the early 1990s harvesters could turn to other species, but crab, shrimp and south coast cod are apparently in simultaneous free fall, if not outright collapse and the common theme is DFO management.”

“There’s also word that capelin stocks may be in trouble,” says Richard Gillett, vice-president of FISH-NL and a harvester from Twillingate. “If there’s no crab or shrimp or capelin, then there’s nowhere to turn. If crab alone goes then the moratorium will look like a church picnic compared to what we’ll be facing.”

FISH-NL is writing a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requesting that his government assemble a team of experts from outside the country to evaluate DFO’s management/science capabilities, specifically in relation to fish stocks off Newfoundland and Labrador, which have an international component.

Further, FISH-NL stated, the findings of scientists, as with this year’s crab stock report, are too often at odds with what fish harvesters are reporting on the water.

“DFO must be held accountable for fisheries management,” says Cleary. “Period. End of story. Too many fisheries have failed over too many years while fisheries elsewhere in the world have collapsed and rebounded even stronger than they were before.”

The DFO reports of dwindling N.L. shrimp and crab stocks have undermined the promise of better prices this year — crab prices are rumoured to be at least a dollar-a-pound more this year — coming in around the $4/pound mark.

Last year’s perceived Last In-First Out (LIFO) win by inshore shrimp fishermen is also being overshadowed by the forthcoming quota cuts. Last July, DFO Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced he was accepting the recommendation of the Ministerial Advisory Panel Report to scrap the LIFO policy in favour of a system of proportional sharing between the inshore and offshore fleets in the future. LeBlanc said that applying a principled approach of proportional sharing means that the inshore and offshore fleets, as well as indigenous peoples, will continue to share in the economic benefits of the Northern shrimp resource.

However, all the news concerning quotas in the Atlantic Canada fishing region is not negative. There are reports that the snow crab biomass in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence has experienced growth in recent years. As a result, many crab fishermen in the region are anticipating quota increases ranging from 50 to 100 per cent.

Kerry Hann

Managing Editor of The Navigator Magazine.

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