'We've won the battle, but not the war': Inshore to get 70% of sharply reduced shrimp quota

DFO is allocating a smaller shrimp catch off Newfoundland's northeast coast and southern Labrador, a decision that is poised to cause trouble an industry that is a lifeblood for many communities.

LIFO scrapped, area six shrimp quota cut by 42 per cent

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has moved to reduce the shrimp quota in area six by 42 per cent. (CBC)

The federal fisheries department is allocating less shrimp off Newfoundland's northeast coast and southern Labrador, in a decision that is poised to cause trouble for on an industry that is a mainstay for many fishing communities. 

According to a document from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the total allowable catch for the 2016-2017 season in Area 6 will be 27,825 tons, a 42 per cent reduction from last year's quota.

Northern shrimp is the most valuable catch in Newfoundland and Labrador's seafood industry. In 2015, it had a landed value of more than $368 million. 

Area 6 is a fishing zone that covers waters off the coasts of southern Labrador and northern Newfoundland. 

The last-in, first-out (LIFO) policy is also being abolished and replaced with a proportional sharing arrangement.

A silver lining for inshore fishermen who vigorously fought the LIFO policy is that they will now maintain their portion of what shrimp can be caught. 

Inshore vessel operators will be given about 70 per cent of the quota, while offshore trawlers will receive around 23 per cent. 

The remainder of the sharing arrangement will see almost 4.5 per cent of the quota go to St. Anthony Basin Resources Inc. (SABRI), nearly two per cent to the Innu, and about one per cent to Fogo Island shimp fisherman.

According to the document provided to CBC News, the decision was made based on the recommendations of the Ministerial Advisory Panel and input from stakeholders.

Early in July, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc said in a statement that he accepted the fundamental recommendation of an independent panel to scrap the LIFO rules and also agreed that the policy should be replaced with a proportional sharing arrangement. 

The inshore vessel operators didn't want any cut, but they did want the majority of the quota.

More work to be done

Phil Barnes says he's pleased with the proportion of the quota allocated to inshore fisherman but disappointed with how much the quota has been cut. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Phil Barnes, general manager of the Fogo Island Co-op, said of the quota decision: "We've won the battle, but not the war."

In an interview with the Central Morning Show, Barnes said his organization was happy that Leblanc took the panel's recommendation to end LIFO.

He said that if the LIFO policy had remained the same, it was likely the Co-op wouldn't have been unable to continue.

"We practically would have been out of the fishery had LIFO stayed," said Barnes. 

He said his organization was pleased with the proportion of the fishery that was allocated to inshore fisherman, but upset over the amount the quota was cut.

Barnes said he was hoping that a recommendation made by the fisheries union to soften the blow of a quota cut by spreading it out to 20 per cent over each of the next two years would be accepted.

Fisherman need to find shrimp replacement

While the changes to LIFO will allow the inshore fishery to survive another year, Barnes said he's aware that shrimp will likely have to be replaced eventually by something else.

"We don't know if we've bottomed out in [shrimp] fishery or if there's an opportunity to sustain itself at levels going forward," he said.

He said plant workers will get less work because of the smaller quotas and that onshore plants will find it tough to adjust to the changes.

"There's a certain amount of resource that you need, a certain amount of product to go through your facilities to make it a viable operation," said Barnes.

Going forward, he said inshore fisherman must look to figure out what to fish next if shrimp can't be the sole driver of profits.

He said fisherman think there's a "tremendous amount of opportunity" in the turbot fishery, but policies need to be reviewed with regard to how turbot is allocated and what proportion goes to foreign fleets.

"We need more resources for inshore fishers and for inshore plants if we're going to survive into the future," he said. 

FFAW says quota will leave workers vulnerable

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW) held a press conference on Friday to discuss what the quota changes will mean for the province's inshore fishery.

In a release, FFAW President Keith Sullivan said that while the proportional sharing arrangement will benefit coastal communities, the quota cut does not meet recommendations made at a Northern Shrimp Advisory Committee meeting in Montreal last week.

"The reduction in quota needed to be phased in over time. This would be both conservation and community minded," said Sullivan. "The 42 per cent quota cut will leave our coastal communities in a very vulnerable economic situation."

Sullivan said the FFAW is concerned for what the cuts will mean for shrimp plants and plant workers in the province.

He said the organization had expected a quota cut this year, but would like to see the DFO be more "cognizant" of the challenges facing the N.L. fishery.

"The fishery is in transition, with a decline in the shellfish resource and a strong growth in groundfish," he said.

"We cannot shut communities off from shellfish this year and expect them to rebound in three years when groundfish has fully returned."

Seafood processors respond

In a statement on Friday, the Canadian Association of Prawn Producers said they were "incredibly disappointed" with the government's decision to reduce the percentage share for offshore fishery.

The association said under the old rules, they would have received 41 per cent of the total catch for the season. But with the new sharing arrangement, they are seeing just 23. 

That cut is compounded by the overall cuts to the Total Allowable Catch. Producers say in total, offshore vessels will grab 53 per cent less shrimp than they did in 2015. 

While the association said they understood the need to reduce the TAC for conservation reasons, they're not happy that they'll see proportionally less of the overall pie.

The organization said the decision will also hurt people in rural communities across the Atlantic region.

"Based on campaign promises of the Liberal government, we truly thought they would make the decision that is in the best long-term interests of the fishery and of the region," wrote Bruce Chapman, the executive director of the group.

"There are a lot of people in the Atlantic provinces who will suffer as direct result of this decision, which creates instability for the medium and longer-term."