Nova Scotia

Atlantic Canada snow crab fishery hopes for another banner year

The snow crab fishery in Atlantic Canada is gearing up in hopes of another banner season in 2022, but clouds are on the horizon.

But concern over high fuel prices, fear of U.S. recession dampens hopes for one Nova Scotia processor

A fisherman sorts freshly caught snow crabs on Nov. 6, 2020, in Kasumi, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. Some snow crab landed in southern Nova Scotia late last year was selling for $12 a pound. (Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)

The snow crab fishery in Atlantic Canada is gearing up in hopes of another banner season in 2022, buoyed by expectations of more quota, high prices and less competition from rival nations.

But will rising inflation, especially in the United States, and uncertainty over the war in Ukraine dampen the spectacular returns in 2021 when the fishery was valued at nearly a billion dollars?

Gordon Beaton, a Nova Scotia fisherman and inshore representative, doesn't believe so.

"With the projected increase in quota, and still markets seem to be fairly strong or stable from last year, it'll be another very good year in the crab industry," Beaton said.

"It was definitely a career season last year, and if we're lucky enough to see that again, it would be nice."

Record prices

Fishermen were getting $8 a pound at the wharf in 2021. Late in the year, some snow crab landed in southern Nova Scotia was selling for $12 a pound.

Those prices were fuelled by surging demand as consumers around the world splurged at the grocery store.

The snow crab fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador was valued at $612 million last year and $310 million in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, according to data released to CBC News by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The case for optimism

The southern Gulf of St. Lawrence snow crab fishery will be the first to open in the spring.

When it does, fishermen will be chasing a quota most likely higher than the 24,000 tonnes available last year.

Their main competition to supply the U.S. market is the Alaska snow crab fishery, which is seeing its quota cut by a whopping 88 per cent in 2022.

Crab from Russia is no threat. U.S. President Joe Biden banned Russian seafood imports Friday as part of growing sanctions over the Ukrainian invasion.

Signs of concern

Osborne Burke is general manager of Victoria Co-operative Fisheries, a snow crab processor in northern Cape Breton. He says U.S. buyers are cautious — something he credits in part to high fuel prices.

"Are we headed to a recession in the U.S. with increased inflation?" he said. "There's a lot of challenges for 2022. Hopefully, we'll see something similar to last year. The expectation of sky-high prices well above where they were last year, I don't see that happening."

Burke spoke with CBC News before heading to Boston for Seafood Expo North America, which begins Sunday.

There are other things that concern Burke.

He said the benchmark five- to eight-ounce section price has dropped by $2.50 a pound to $13.50. No advance orders have come in either, which is unusual.

"It tells me that people are being cautious, they're waiting to see what happens," he said.