Lean year forecast for southern Labrador shellfish crews

Shellfish harvesters in southern Labrador saw their shrimp quotas cut by 25 per cent for the 2018 fishing season.

Area 6 shrimp fishermen see their quotas cut by 25 per cent in 2018

Northern shrimp stocks continue to decline in Area 6. Roy Mangrove of St. Lewis, Labrador, says his quota will only allow one shrimp fishing trip this season. (Robert Bukaty/Associated Press)

Roy Mangrove is worried.

After years of seeing cuts to his crab and shrimp quotas, the fisherman from St. Lewis in southern Labrador is facing a further 25 per cent cut in shrimp this season.

That drops his quota to 61,000 lb. this year, from 82,000 last year.

"Everything going good, you can make a bit of money on it, but for us we got … three trips of crab and one trip of shrimp. So four weeks and we're finished," Mangrove told CBC's Labrador Morning this week.

Mangrove and his crew fish in Shrimp Fishing Area 6.

Lowest shrimp levels ever recorded

A scientific assessment done by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans last year shows there was a 16 per cent reduction in that area's fishable biomass from the previous year.

It's the lowest level ever recorded in the zone that extends from the northeast coast of Newfoundland to the waters off southern Labrador.

Shrimp fishermen in Area 6 are hoping they can get a few trips to fish shrimp further north in Areas 4 and 5 this year, where the quotas have increased. (DFO)

That news comes after years of cuts in Area 6, including a 78 per cent reduction in 2016 alone.

Mangrove says he's one of 21 area licence-holders who've had their quotas cut to 61,000 lb. this year. He says that will reduce his shrimp fishing effort from two trips last year to one trip this season.

"It's feasible, you know, for that trip if you haven't got to gear up or tear up your trawl. A trawl is 30,000 bucks and the doors are 20,000 … so you're talking 50,000 there."

Mangrove, who fishes with his two sons, says dwindling crab and shrimp stocks are having a devastating impact on his enterprise's bottom line. 

"In the heyday year, back in 1997 when the shrimp fishery started (here), we had 960,000 pounds then," he said.

Worries about processing jobs

With stocks seemingly in free fall, Mangrove says only the relatively high prices fishermen are getting today are keeping them afloat.

"You're getting $5 a pound for your crab, or just about. This year the shrimp is at $1.40. It's just the price that is keeping the enterprises going."

Mangove also worries about the only local processor of shrimp and crab in his region, the Labrador Fishermen's Union Shrimp Company. It has crab plants in Mary's Harbour and Cartwright, as well as Labrador's only shrimp processing plant in Charlottetown.

Southern Labrador fisherman Roy Mangrove says only the relatively high prices of shellfish crab and shrimp are keeping local fishermen afloat. (Radio-Canada/Martin Toulgoat)

He says smaller quotas could mean less work for hundreds of fish plant workers in southern Labrador, a region where jobs are scarce and many of them are seasonal.

Mangrove and other shrimp fishermen in the area are looking to DFO for a bit of relief from their shrimp plight. They've held meetings to try to get access to shrimp in Areas 4 and 5 further north along the coast.

He says most fishermen there seem happy with the quotas they have now, and southern Labrador fishermen like him are looking to get some of the increased quotas further north to catch this year. Even two or three trips would be a big help, he says.

I don't pray very often, I'm not the type for that … but we're just hoping to get it. If something don't soon happen, we're out the door.- Roy Mangrove

"I don't pray very often, I'm not the type for that … but we're just hoping to get it. If something don't soon happen, we're out the door."

In the meantime, Mangrove is scanning the horizon and doesn't like what he sees. If demand dries up and prices fall, the future looks pretty grim, he says.

"It would only take a slash in the market … and we're finished. We got nothing to catch."

DFO confirmed late Friday afternoon that there will be no changes to the shrimp quotas already announced for the Newfoundland and Labrador region this year.

With files from The Labrador Morning Show