Nfld. & Labrador

'Critical' situation: Major shrimp stock sees another big loss

The shrimp biomass in the Zone 6 fishing area has fallen another 25 per cent, and will reach the "critical" status level, according to a scientist from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
There's fewer and fewer shrimp in the Zone 6 area off Newfoundland's northeast coast and southern Labrador, according to DFO. (CBC)

The amount of commercially-catchable shrimp in the Zone 6 area has reached the lowest level in recorded history, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The Zone 6 stock will gain the "critical" designation, according to Katherine Skanes, a biologist with DFO in Newfoundland and Labrador.

According to an assessment completed last week, there were only 104,000 tonnes of fishable shrimp in the Zone 6 area in 2016.

That number is down 25 per cent from 2015, and down from a high of 785,00 tonnes in 2006.

The female spawning stock declined by 27 per cent for the region, which covers much of the northeast coast of Newfoundland and southern Labrador.

"They're both at the lowest levels since we began our multi-species trial survey," Skanes told CBC Radio's The Broadcast.

"We haven't seen such a big decline in shrimp." 

Katherine Skanes is a shrimp biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. (Gary Quigley/CBC)

Skanes says the quota for the current fishing season allows fishermen to take in 20 per cent of all fishable shrimp in the zone.

She says in most areas with the critical designation, that amount should be just 10 per cent.

'Frightening' numbers

Glen Best, a fish harvester on Fogo Island, called the assessment results scary.

He said a quota cut last year has already taken a big chunk of his revenue away, and the newly-announced results from DFO aren't helping.

"If it keeps going the way it's going, it won't be viable," he told CBC Radio's The Broadcast.

"A couple of years ago, I think, I did up the numbers. It was about 70 per cent of our revenue. So that just gives you an idea of what shrimp means to us."

Glen Best lives on Fogo Island. He says a few years ago, the vast majority of his revenue came from the shrimp fishery. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Best says many fishermen won't have many options come summertime, as they've already spent a lot of money investing into the shrimp fishery.

"If there's some there to catch, you have no option. If you're able to be viable at all, you have to try to catch what's allocated to you." 

If it really does get as bad as Best fears, he's wondering what he can do to earn a living.

"Where do we go? What fills the void? Is it going to be some other species? Is it going to be cod? And that's not going to happen overnight."

Warm water?

Though fishing is certainly a contributor to the decline, Skanes said there are also other factors, like gradually warming water.

"There's a lot of interactions in the ocean that, I mean, we don't fully understand all the interactions that happen, but warm temperatures are bad for shellfish species," she said.

And with cod stocks growing as well, but with few capelin to eat, she said that cod have been eating more shrimp.

"It's all related, water temperature, the numbers of ground fish, the numbers of shrimp," she said. "I mean they all interact together under the ocean."

A breakdown of shrimp fishing areas in Atlantic Canada. (Department of Fisheries and Oceans)

Skanes says a final report will be written and discussed with people in the fishing industry in March.

With files from the Broadcast