CBC In Depth
Snow Crab
CBC News Online | May 9, 2005

Crab is Canada's second most valuable seafood export, after lobster, and snow crab is the foundation of the country's crab fishery. Other species, including king crab and, on the West Coast, Dungeness crab, represent only a fraction of the snow crab's yield.

Canada's top fish exports by species (2004)
Lobster $952 million +
Crab $926 million
Salmon (farmed and wild) $574 million

Of the nearly $1 billion in crab exported from Canada in 2004, most ended up in the United States. Japan and the European Union are also important markets for crab.

Snow crabs have circular bodies surrounded by five pairs of long, flat legs. They are found on sandy areas of the ocean floor at depths ranging from one to 470 metres.

Crabs caught for commercial purposes in Canada range in size from 9.5 to 15 cm in width, and weigh between 350 grams to 1.3 kilograms. Males are much larger than females, and consequently account for most crabs caught commercially.

Varies by region, but generally from April to November

Harvest areas:
Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec

Quotas are established by the federal government to regulate the amount of crab harvested by Canadian fishers.

Snow crab quotas (total allowable catch)
2005 2004 2003
Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence* 32,336 26,600 17,148
Newfoundland 49,943 53,740 56,240
*An area covering New Brunswick, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

In May 2003, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Robert Thibault announced a 20 per cent reduction in the allowable snow crab catch for the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. He also said that 15 per cent of the new quota would be given to lobster fishers.

It was estimated the cuts would reduce the average crab fisher's income by $20,000, or one-fifth of the average income.

Reaction to the announcement came fast and furious. In the New Brunswick fishing community of Shippagan, an angry mob destroyed a warehouse, a fish processing plant and the local Department of Fisheries and Oceans office. They also destroyed four fishing boats, three belonging to the DFO and one to the Big Cove First Nation. The department vessels had been assigned to members of native bands who planned to catch crab.

In 2005, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador imposed a quota system on crab production, meaning the crab catching quota had to be shared among all fish plants in the province. Crab fishermen said the quota system prevents them from selling their catch to the highest bidder and gives too much power to the processing plants.

Very little fishing took place when the crab season began on April 9, 2005. The fishermen boycotted the fishery and held a series of protests instead. They slowed tanker traffic through Placentia Bay, blockaded the entrance to St. John's Harbour and demonstrated at the province's House of Assembly and other government buildings.

In May 2005, a half-dozen crab fishing boats took their catches to Nova Scotia for processing, rather than comply with Newfoundland's processing quota system. The fishermen's union, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers, were behind the protest, despite the fact that the union represents the fish plant workers, too.



From CBC St. John's:
To the last fish: the codless sea

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Management of the Northern Cod Fishery: A guide to information sources

Map of Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Management Divisions Centre for Newfoundland Studies

Atlantic Cod Environment Canada

The rise and fall of Atlantic cod Canadian Geographic Online

Cod Fishing Industry: Feeding the World Canadian Heirloom Series

Fisheries and Oceans Statstics Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada

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