Nfld. & Labrador

DFO 'cautiously optimistic' about upcoming snow crab outlook

While still at near historic lows, there's a small uptick overall in the amount of snow crab in the waters off Newfoundland and Labrador.

Snow crab signs good overall for 2020 fishing season, says research scientist

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is concerned about snow crab stock — but cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season. (Submitted by FFAW)

"Cautiously optimistic."

That's how Department of Fisheries and Oceans research scientist Darrell Mullowney feels about the snow crab stock in the waters off Newfoundland and Labrador.

But Mullowney notes the federal department is still concerned about the stock, as its "exploitable biomass" — the amount available for fishing — remains near a historic low.

"That's the cautious part of it," he told CBC News. "The optimistic part of it is we are seeing a lot of potential for improved recruitment into the biomass over the next few years."

Translation: While the amount of fishable crab — the province's most valuable fishery, worth $295 million in 2018 —remains low, DFO sees encouraging signs of new male crab becoming part of the overall stock over the next few years.

The bump upwards in stock size appears to be a result of cool water temperatures between 2012 and 2017 and a decline in predators like cod and plaice.

Landings have declined since 2009, when 53,400 tonnes of crab was landed, compared with 26,400 tonnes in 2019.

Meetings planned to determine season quota

DFO management will meet with harvesters and industry in the coming months to help determine the total allowable catch for the upcoming season.

The 3LNO area, which stretches from Bonavista Bay to St. Mary's Bay, produces the most crab: 15,818 tonnes last year.

While some areas are in poor shape, the stock there is up slightly and is expected to improve further.

Research scientist Darrell Mullowney says the short-term future of the lucrative snow crab fishery looks good. (Todd O'Brien/CBC)

Inshore fisheries around Bonavista Bay and Trinity Bay are expected to do well, compared with some areas around the Avalon Peninsula that are doing poorly.

The crab stock in 3Ps, along the island's south coast, also appears to be doing slightly better, although, according to Mullowney there are mixed signals.

The Fish, Food & Allied Workers Union is also cautiously optimistic, according to a news release that says the majority of the province is showing increases in crab that can be fished.

"I'm looking forward to another great year of snow crab in 3Ps, hopefully with an increase in quota in our area based on the results of the science assessment," said St. Bride's fisherman Brian Careen.

There is disagreement over the use of DFO's management model, known as the "precautionary approach,"which calculates how much crab is in the water and what can be fished.

The FFAW is working on its own model in collaboration with crab harvesters because the union believes DFO underestimates how much crab should be fished.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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