By Sarah Smellie
It’s peak crab season in Newfoundland and Labrador, but hundreds of fishers spent Monday morning on land, hoisting fists and signs in the air outside the provincial legislature to protest what they say is an unlivable price for snow crab.
Some in the crowd said they would much rather be out on the water than protesting. But harvesters are refusing to fish this season after prices were set at $2.20 per pound, a price they say favours fish processors over those who catch the fish.
“Our money tree is the fishery of Newfoundland and Labrador, and it’s time for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to wake up, for that group of companies is stealing it out from under you!” yelled St. John’s fisher Glen Winslow, pounding his fist on the lectern at the top of the legislature steps.
The fishers roared in response, waving signs with slogans, including “End processor control” and “Save rural N.L.”
Snow crab is Newfoundland and Labrador’s most valuable seafood export, accounting for more than half — $886 million — of the $1.6 billion generated by the province’s fisheries in 2021, according to the government.
Crab prices for harvesters are set each year by a government-appointed panel that hears arguments from the province’s Association of Seafood Producers and the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union, which represents inshore harvesters and workers in fish plants. When the panel announced this year’s price _ a precipitous drop from last year’s starting price of $7.60 a pound _ the union issued a news release warning of layoffs and bankruptcies.
Shortly after, fishers vowed to keep their boats docked and demanded the provincial government force the panel to reconvene to hammer out a better price.
“People understand that it’s not going to be $7.60, or $6.60, or maybe even $5.60. But they know that $2.20 is not a reasonable price, and it’s not a feasible price,” Jason Spingle, the union’s secretary-treasurer, said in an interview. “With the wear and tear on your gear and your boat, if you can’t make a certain amount of money, it’s just not worth it.”
The price-setting panel, meanwhile, has said evidence of a declining, volatile international crab market partly informed its decision to reduce prices this season.
Roxane Collins fishes out of St. John’s, and said she would normally be landing her crab catches by now. She said it’s impossible to make a living with prices that low.
“It’s sad. All the fishers are all ready to go,” Collins said in an interview. “And it’s not only the fishermen. It goes back to truck drivers, grocery stores, everything. And then our plant workers _ they need work as well.”
The union chartered at least three buses to bring fishers and plant workers to the rally on Monday, some from as far away as St. Anthony, N.L., which is at the tip of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula, more than 1,000 kilometres from St. John’s.
Many rural communities depend on the fishing industry, and some at the protest said an end to this year’s crab fishery would be disastrous for those towns.
“You go to your Home Hardware, go to your furniture department, you go anywhere,” said Loretta Ward, who fishes out of Southeast Bight, N.L., on Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula. “How can they survive if we’re not bringing in the money?”
Fisheries Minister Derrick Bragg told the crowd Monday his department has worked hard to address concerns about the price-setting panel, in consultation with the union. “For rural Newfoundland to survive, our fishery must survive,” Bragg said. “We’re all in this together. You have our 100 per cent support in this process.”
His comments were met with tepid applause.
Union president Greg Pretty told the crowd fishers were willing to stay on land for as long as it takes for prices to improve.
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