The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union is calling for a halt to all northern shrimp fishing off the northeast coast of Newfoundland and the southeast coast of Labrador.
David Decker, secretary-treasurer of the FFAW, said that the biomass in shrimp fishing area 6 is down 40 per cent in the last year, putting a strain on the communities that rely on the fishery.
"This is a crisis, a crisis for our communities," he said.
"Our communities depend on the resource that's adjacent to the waters off their communities, that is what these communities are founded on."
Decker said that the shrimp fleet in area 6 had access to 131 million pounds of shrimp in 2009, but only 59 million pounds in 2015. That number is expected to decline further, to just 12 million pounds this year.
"We need a full assessment of that stock, because this is based on just an update, and we need then to talk about, if indeed there needs to be cutbacks, and how are these cutbacks going to be shared," Decker said
"We can't just cut off our communities."
He said there are currently between six and eight factory freezer trawlers fishing in the area, but the ecosystem is changing.
Decker said the ground fish population has increased by 60 times without any increase in quotas. He said it is important to focus on rebuilding ground fish markets as well as ground fish stocks to benefit communities and allow them to transition to new types of fishing.
FFAW president Keith Sullivan has been meeting with the province's federal minister, Judy Foote, and has met previously with Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo, but Decker said that it's important that the federal government take action.
"It's absolutely crucial that Ottawa act now," he said.
"Stop this fishery right now, there's going to have to be serious decisions made, so give us time and breathing room. This is the least we can do for our communities"
Support from NDP
Provincial NDP leader Earle McCurdy also supported a halt on northern shrimp harvesting and said it would be irresponsible to continue harvesting shrimp until a full assessment of the situation is conducted.
"The economic implications of this development are potentially devastating for thousands of fish harvesters, plant workers, and processors, and their communities in Newfoundland and Labrador," he said in a statement.
He also called on Ottawa to better represent the interests of northern shrimp harvesters and echoed Decker's comments about rebuilding ground fish markets.
"The decline in shrimp stocks is part and parcel of environmental changes which have seen a dramatic increase in abundance of cod stocks off northeast Newfoundland and Labrador," he said
"The Department of Fisheries and Oceans needs to move away from its obsession with stifling any kind of commercial cod fishery, and allow the cod industry to rebuild as the cod resource rebuilds."