Snow crab season is a go, says FFAW after signing final price offer

The Fish, Food & Allied Workers union says it has "reluctantly" signed off on a final offer from the Association of Seafood Producers to start the snow crab fishery.
Crabs in a bin on a ship.
Newfoundland and Labrador's snow crab fishery seems to finally be getting underway. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

The Fish, Food & Allied Workers union says it has "reluctantly" signed off on a final offer from the Association of Seafood Producers to start the crab fishery after a stalemate that lasted weeks over the price per pound.

The union says the offer guarantees a minimum price of $2.20 Cdn per pound — the price that was initially tabled in April by a price-setting panel — and includes incremental increases as the US-dollar-based Urner Barry price increases. That ensures the price will not drop lower regardless of potential market drops.

Urner Barry reports on market information related to red meat, poultry, egg and seafood.

"The agreement was made on the stipulation that Premier Furey publicly commit to revamping the final offer selection (panel) process and work towards a formula prior to the 2024 season," wrote the FFAW in a press release issued shortly after 1 p.m. NT, although a later press release from the provincial government makes no mention of such a stipulation.

The deal will look as follows and reflect the shift in the crab market:

  • $2.20 to start and a minimum for the year.
  • $2.25 at $4.85 US.
  • $2.30 at $4.95.
  • $2.60 at $5.50.
  • $2.75 at $6.
  • Price reconsideration at $6.01.

"Nobody on the committee is happy to be signing this deal today. This committee put hundreds of volunteer hours into trying to find a better outcome for harvesters, and having this industry at a standstill for over six weeks was incredibly challenging on many fronts," FFAW president Greg Pretty said in the press release.

"Harvesters hoped the market situation would improve over the last several weeks. Those hopes did not materialize, and without a doubt the committee was backed into a corner."

The union said it will continue to lobby for changes to EI qualifications and its members are facing "a significant reduction in earnings this year." It says it's working on a comprehensive benefit proposal that will ensure members are supported.

"They must receive commitment that financial help will be there to help them make it to next season," reads the release.

Pretty said negotiations have been stressful and difficult. 

"This historic shutdown of the snow crab fishery has not gone unnoticed by provincial or federal decision makers. A chain-reaction has been started as a result of the solidarity that has been shown over these several weeks, and we are encouraged by the premier's commitment to review this entire process," he said.

A man stands in his shed wearing a black jacket and a baseball cap.
Bay Bulls snow crab harvester Jason Sullivan says the dispute displays a need for an overhaul of Fish, Food & Allied Workers leadership. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

In a Facebook post Friday afternoon, fisherman Jason Sullivan, who had become increasingly critical of FFAW leadership as the tie-up wore on, said the union was conceding defeat.

"I must admit after all this to receive nothing, even a legislative concession like outside buyers, is tough to swallow. I will admit, even I put too much faith in the FFAW and I thought they could accomplish something after all this but I have been brought back to reality," he wrote.

"This situation reaffirms the reality that the FFAW needs a top-to-bottom overhaul because at the end of the day, given the chance again, the inshore council would still have put this leadership group in place. We deserve better than this embarrassment."

Green Bay crab harvester Nancy Bowers — a member of the union's inshore council — said Friday afternoon said she's "a bit happy" an agreement had been reached, but remains skeptical both of the final deal and the procedure that obtained it.

"I was kind of hoping it'd be a better price, but I guess right now we gotta take what is out there and try to make the best of it for the season," she said. The price-setting process should be changed, she said, adding she wasn't sure what — if anything — the government had agreed to regarding working toward a formula.

"Sometimes with the government, you don't know, even when they agree to something, they don't really carry out what they agree to," she said.

Dispute hurt the union, says harvester

She said the weeks-long dispute divided and damaged the union.

"But I hope over the coming weeks and months that some of it can be resolved, and we can be great again, and all of us can come back out on the same page," she said "'Cause at the end of the day, we're all fighting to survive, and we're all fighting for one cause: to keep our communities going and keep our livelihood going."

An FFAW spokesperson said the union and the producers' association had agreed not to comment on the deal for the next few days.

A press release from the provincial government confirming the deal said representatives from both sides would be available to the media on Tuesday.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The Broadcast