Nfld. & Labrador

Snow crab producers, harvesters ready to move on from 6-week delay to start of season

"We have a shortened season, we have an increase in quota, and it's very important that we keep our focus not on what has happened, but where we need to go," ASP executive director Jeff Loder told reporters Tuesday.

Deal to end stalemate was signed Friday

A man wearing a navy coloured suit sits in a hotel boardroom.
Jeff Loder is the executive director of the Association of Seafood Producers. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

The head of the Association of Seafood Producers says the finalization of snow crab prices shifts the situation from a fight over price to a fight to make the season valuable.

"We have a shortened season, we have an increase in quota, and it's very important that we keep our focus not on what has happened, but where we need to go," ASP executive director Jeff Loder told reporters Tuesday.

"And where we need to go is to get snow crab out of the water, processed and into markets."

The ASP and the Fish, Food & Allied Workers union signed a deal Friday to end the six-week stalemate. The offer guarantees a minimum of $2.20 per pound for snow crab and includes incremental increases as the US-dollar-based Urner Barry price increases.

Loder said his group is relieved to see the price at $2.20. He commended the integrity of the price-setting panel along with Premier Andrew Furey, Fisheries Minister Derrick Bragg and Environment Minister Bernard Davis for "encouraging a fact-based market discussion" on the way to a deal.

Loder did show slight frustration around the length of the holdout, saying both the price of $2.20 and the incremental increases were part of conversations months ago.

"They were disrupted by members of the FFAW, which led to a situation where we've lost over six weeks of the season," he said. "We're going to do everything that we possibly can to ensure an organized fishery with trip limits that are enforceable, and the FFAW and ASP are meeting today to have that discussion."

While Loder wouldn't share a dollar amount tied to the impact of the holdout from harvesters, he said the deal was signed with plant workers, harvesters and businesses tied to the fishery in mind. The holdout hurt those demographics the most, he said, especially when other Atlantic Canadian markets were processing crab and sending it to market.

"We're going to do everything we can to overcome those impacts, but there's no question this was not the image that should have been sent out to global markets," he said.

Holdout will benefit all in the long run: FFAW

Although the FFAW wasn't able to change the $2.20 per pound set by the price-setting panel, president Greg Pretty says the work done in six weeks of holding out — like making sure $2.20 is the minimum price along with incremental increases — is a positive.

"If we were fishing right now, the price would probably be $1.76 to $1.80. So there's 40 cents there, there's nothing insignificant about that. It's 40 cents per pound, and that's there right now, because of the deal we struck with ASP," Pretty said Tuesday.

"This was a real difficult time, very stressful time for people. I think the six weeks will pay off ultimately for the entire industry."

A man wearing a plaid blazer with grey and red glasses stands in an office.
Greg Pretty, president of the Fish, Food & Allied Workers union, says the holdout will have benefits across the crab industry. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Pretty also believes progress has been made on issues he says are plaguing the industry, such as changes to final offer selection — the method that price-setting panel uses to determine price that Pretty says was highlighted by Furey during their meetings.

"[Furey's] said he's very willing to look at tweaking, fixing, [final offer selection]. And, in fact, looking at a continuation of a formula for next year to ensure that we don't have to go through this again," Pretty said.

Loder said the ASP is open to working through issues like the pricing formula and the Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act, adding he agrees it should be a continuously reviewed document.

"We cannot have a system whereby one party, if it doesn't like the outcome of that system, can simply ask for the system to change. That is the fundamental problem with the system right now, and it needs to be addressed," he said.

Boats on the water

With a guarantee of at least $2.20 per pound for the rest of the season, harvesters are now on the water trying to catch as much of their quotas as they can.

But for harvesters like Raymond Bolt of Mount Pearl, fishing at that price isn't entirely positive.

A man wearing a rain coat stands on a wharf.
Wade Bolt is one of many harvesters heading on the water to catch crab at $2.20 per pound, but he isn't necessarily happy about it. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

"We got to try and recover a little bit of this, but the feeling is defeat," Bolt told CBC News from the wharf in St. John's. "We've been defeated by the organizations."

Bolt says he and other harvesters were fighting for higher prices, adding it will be tough to mend the wounds caused by what he calls a lack of leadership from the FFAW.

"I got 80,000 pounds, like that's $170,000-$180,000. That's enough for me to pay my expenses for the year, OK? I'm not gonna make five cents this year," he said.

"My crew members, they're gonna make enough for a set of unemployment each."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Patrick Butler, Todd O'Brien, Terry Roberts