FFAW Sees “Overall Positive” 2023 Crab and Lobster Season

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW) claimed that besides low prices for crab, Newfoundland and Labrador’s crab and lobster seasons are seeing great catch rates of high-quality seafood.

After what Jason Spingle, Secretary-Treasurer of the FFAW, called a “difficult” lead-up to the crab season, with price negotiations between the union and the Association of Seafood Producers (ASP) breaking down and leading to a six-week delay in the fishery, things seem to be looking up for the season at hand.

“Thankfully, what we’ve heard overall — and we kind of expected that positive — is that the catch rates and the quality of crab was excellent,” said Spingle. “Most people, when they were able to fish, had good fishing.

With around 80 per cent of N.L.’s 54,727-tonne quota already caught, even with a significantly delayed season, Spingle credits the province’s harvesters and plant workers for working extra hours and “making the most of a difficult spring” to maximize the profitability of the sector.

“I visited four crab plants now in the past two weeks and a bit… There are people working nine, 10-hour days for over 25 consecutive days, for example. It’s a real testament that they can still be friendly and positive overall,” said Spingle. “They’re bringing in the new dollars to our province and certainly harvesters are working just as hard.”

Catch rates aside, Spingle said that crab prices, which currently sit at $2.23/pound, have had a lasting effect on the income of harvesters. Prices in 2021–2022 hovered around the $6–7/pound range for most of the last two seasons, with prices peaking at $7.67 per pound in May of 2022.

“For the harvesters in particular, there’s a lot of income that’s gone out. We’ve had two really good years, I think — 2022 and 2021 for sure. The cost that goes into operating enterprises at any size is generally relative — fuel, bait, maintenance costs, unexpected maintenance costs — it takes a lot of money to run these enterprises,” said Spingle. “If you say to anyone that your income is going to drop by two-thirds, that’s going to be a difficult situation.”

Spingle said that the FFAW is looking to get an additional extension to the crab season in the 3PS and 3K NAFO divisions before this season wraps up. Looking towards the future, the FFAW hopes that the tie-up and the consequential deal they signed for the 2023 season will be a prelude to getting a better pricing formula for snow crab in the coming years.

Spingle went on to note that warming temperatures have caused an increasing trend in lobster catches in N.L.

“Based on my preliminary conversations with harvesters, this is going to be a record year for landings,” said Spingle.

While prices have held strong from last year, with a current minimum shore price of $7.68 per pound, harvesters encountered a period where processors were not buying any landed catch. According to Spingle, the FFAW made an adjustment with processors that allowed the fishery to continue, with harvesters seeing around 20 cents less for their catch.

“The price was still similar overall,” said Spingle. “Lobster harvesters that I’ve talked to, whether it’s on the south coast, the west coast, the Northern Peninsula and even the northeast coast, have talked nothing but positives with respect to catches and the experience they’ve had with the lobster fisheries.”

With many other species such as cod in the Gulf of St. Lawrence showing worrying signs for harvesters, Spingle said lobster has proved to be a mainstay for many in the province to make a good living on.

“It’s certainly the main part of their livelihood now for most harvesters, like in area 11 — that’d be from Fortune Bay and right on around to the middle part of the Newfoundland Straits,” said Spingle. “I’ve been with the union almost 25 years now… I know harvesters, particularly on the Northern Peninsula this year, had more on their opening haul than they would have had for their whole season 15 years ago.”

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