New Brunswick

Snow crab fishery worries COVID-19 outbreak could be bad for business

New Brunswick's lucrative snow crab fishery is concerned about the impact the coronavirus will have on the marketplace this coming season.

'It's very volatile right now and certainly, we're concerned'

New Brunswick's snow crab industry could be heavily impacted by coronavirus outbreaks around the world. (Submitted by FFAW)

New Brunswick's lucrative snow crab fishery is concerned about the impact the coronavirus will have on the marketplace this coming season.

Gilles Thériault, president of the New Brunswick Crab Processors Association, says he's worried concerns around the virus will affect sales of products in countries like the U.S. and Japan, which could have a huge economic impact in New Brunswick. 

"Everything is up in the air and we're certainly monitoring the situation very closely," Thériault said this week. 

"It's very volatile right now and certainly, we're concerned."

The bigger worry is the coronavirus and what that could have on the marketplace- Gilles Thériault, New Brunswick Crab Processors Association

Next to the lobster industry, snow crab is the biggest fishing industry in the province, as millions of dollars worth of New Brunswick snow crab is sold internationally.

About 85 per cent of snow crab products are sold to U.S. markets, particularly casinos, restaurants, and all-you-can-eat buffets, popular in states like Florida, Georgia and Maryland. 

The New Brunswick delicacy is also popular on cruise ships. 

"That's a worry for us because right now the cruise ship industry is in a panic mode because, of course, COVID-19."

'A domino effect' 

Thériault uses the example of a cruise ship representing between 10 or 15 per cent of sales — it might not seem like much, but it could have an impact on the entire marketplace. 

"If we don't have access to, let's say, our traditional cruise ship. This crab is going to have to go somewhere else," he said. 

"Basically the offer is going to become higher than demand in other places. That would result in a lower price. All of this can have a domino effect."

People wearing face masks, following an outbreak of coronavirus, in Saitama Prefecture, Japan. Japan is a substantial market for New Brunswick snow crab. (Athit Perawongmentha/Reuters)

Jean Lanteigne, general manager of the Regional Federation of Professional Fishermen, used the example of consumers in China, where the virus first broke out.  

He said many people in those countries aren't going out to eat at restaurants, where this product would be offered. 

"You're not purchasing the same food, your pattern as a consumer is different," he said. "That will have an impact."

Jean Lanteigne, general manager of the Regional Federation of Professional Fishermen, said the industry still doesn't know how well products will sell on the international market in coming months. (CBC)

About four years ago, $129 million worth of snow crab was landed in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick, with the bulk of New Brunswick's $78 million landed in the northern reaches of this province. That same year, annual snow crab exports reached $280 million, with 83 per cent going to the United States and 12 per cent to Japan.

The industry won't know what kind of impact the virus will have on the fishery until the season starts in April.   

'All in the same boat'

Meanwhile, North America's largest seafood expo has also been postponed over growing anxiety from the global COVID-19 outbreak.

The annual Seafood Expo North America was expected to welcome thousands of industry buyers and suppliers from around the world in Boston for a three-day convention starting March 15.

The expo's exhibitors list showed more than 1,000 entries from roughly 60 countries. There were dozens of Canadian entries, including several from the Atlantic provinces. 

"We're all in the same boat, everything is up in the air."

A man wearing a face mask rides a shared bicycle on a bridge over the Yangtze River in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak in China. (Reuters)

Thériault said snow crab producers were looking forward to meeting with clients and finalizing purchase and sale agreements, while also looking at the market situation for the coming year. The show is an important venue for snow crab producers "to have an idea of what prices we're going to get for our product," he said. 

But many participants will still travel down to Boston to take part in private meetings with clients. 

"The bigger worry is the coronavirus and what that could have on the marketplace," he said.

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