Giant waves and slimy seas: 2018 crab harvest a mixed bag for Conception Bay fishermen
Record prices helping many avoid a disastrous season
The 2018 snow crab harvest is presenting some big challenges for fishermen in Conception Bay, but a record price is helping save what could otherwise be a disastrous year for some.
While the bigger offshore boats, known as full-timers, are reporting healthy landings, the so-called inshore fleet, with vessels less than 35 feet, have been hard hit.
Pots covered in mud
Many have been pinned to the wharf in harbours like Port de Grave, missing valuable fishing time as persistent gales churn up giant waves.
"It's like February in June," said Lindsay Petten, owner/operator of the the steel-hulled Nautical Legend.
This year we're seeing just regular systems coming through with 45, 55 knots and it's happening on a weekly basis.- Fisherman Lindsay Petten
"Occasionally, if a hurricane came through you'd see winds greater than 35 knots. This year we're seeing just regular systems coming through with 45, 55 knots and it's happening on a weekly basis."
Fishermen say the ocean is also clouded with "slub," which they say is draping their pots.
It's meant lower landings for the inshore fleet, and worries in some quarters that if the situation does not improve, the entire quota may not be harvested.
"A lot of boats are coming in with five, six, seven and eight thousand in closer areas. Last year, you'd be coming in with eight and 10 thousand. So like she's really down."
Quota cuts fraying nerves
The harsh weather conditions and slimy water is in addition to worrisome quota cuts that have hit the crab sector in recent years, with some in Port de Grave saying the crab resource in Conception Bay is on the decline.
That's not only fraying nerves among fishermen, but also among those who work at the Barry Group processing plant in Port de Grave.
But there was no sign of a slowdown at the plant on Tuesday, with the Legend coming ashore with 50,000 pounds of crab and immediately being sent through the processing line.
For offshore fishermen like Lindsay Petten, it's been a good year. He says "traditional" crab grounds along the Grand Banks are not showing any signs of decline. In fact, he said catch rates are higher than he's ever seen.
"We're still getting cuts, even though our catch rates are above what we were getting back in the 90s," Lindsay Petten said.
The mood is not quite so upbeat closer to shore, but Dwight Petten believes things might turn around when the ocean — and the winds — finally settle.
Meanwhile, the crab that is being landed is fetching a hefty return as a shortage of supply from places such as Alaska drives prices into the stratosphere.
A single crab can earn a fisherman up to $8 this year. That's about twice what they were being paid three or four years ago.
Good thing, too, because the total allowable catch has shrunk by 17 per cent this year, with similarly steep cuts in 2017.
"If the price wasn't there, everyone would be in pretty rough shape," said Lindsay Petten.