Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy

Credit: Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters
"This should concern each and every one of us as much as the levy or the libraries."

You may have seen one of several troubling and vague PSAs recently concerning Canadian shrimp production in the Northern Producing zone and thought, like myself, “Gee, that was really weird.” So here’s what’s up:

This is all in response to a string of years where the shrimp quota has not been met by harvesters. This means that shrimp populations cannot withstand the current levels of harvesting.

Nowhere is this more prominent than in Area 6, which stretches along the northern coast, reaching Labrador. It includes communities like Fogo, St. Anthony, Clarenville and Bonavista.

Department of Fisheries experts have told CBC that biomass in Area 6 has fallen as much as 40% from their peak in 2006.

While the cause of the fall is still a matter of debate – there is one truth – lay off the shrimp harvesting or there will be no shrimp harvesting.

There are three key aspects to the debacle in which we now find ourselves:

1) The First-In-Last-Out policy taken by the department of Fisheries and Oceans. It implies that any reduction in allowable catches would fall squarely on the backs of the inshore fishery who were granted access to shrimp stocks in 1997. Licenses at that time were granted to applicants based on their ability to meet industry requirements, often requiring massive investments in equipment and now the average Shrimp boat owner is approximately $200,000 in debt.

2) The offshore fishery is largely composed of factory-freezer trawlers. These boats can remain at sea for very long periods of time and can freeze and store thousands of tonnes of shrimp. The FFAW (provincial fisheries union) is trying to paint these trawlers as floating goliaths of overconsumption who fish year-round and do not let the stocks adequately repopulate. However, these trawlers DO employ Canadians – in many instances, Newfoundlanders. They are hugely important to Atlantic Canada, economically. As for overconsumption – nobody can pin the cause of stock decline purely on one factor.

3) The shrimp fishery is massive and lucrative. In northern areas it makes up a huge part of community economic activity and has been the savior of many outport communities after the moratorium.  Catches in 2013 were valued at $319 million dollars.

The commercials are pitting the provincial fisheries union FFAW against the federal industry advocacy group CAPP in a battle for hearts and minds.

These types of PR wars create an environment for the worst types of political decision-making – us versus them tribalism. As it stands, neither side will stray from their “poor-me” narrative. This has turned the debate into a stone-throwing mess, instead of what it really needs to be – a level headed discussion, despite the magnitude of what is on the line.

There is currently a panel conducting a review on what courses of action should be done to ensure the shrimp does not go the way of the cod.

This should concern each and every one of us as much as the levy or the libraries. These affected communities drive tourism, our heritage, and perhaps our potential future if oil revenue remains absent from the picture.

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1 Comment

  • Overall a fairly well informed article, in true Overcast fashion it seemed to take a balanced and unbiased approach which is good to see.

    Wanted to add a couple quick points to your 3 aspects you raised

    1) The offshore pioneered this shrimp fishery in 1978 , at a time when market prices were low, operating costs were high, and significant capital investment was required. This exploratory endeavour was very risky which resulted in a few vessels sinking and companies going bankrupt. When the inshore entered the fishery in 1997 it was under very clear terms that they would “leave the fishery in the reverse order in which they entered”. This was to protect the investments of the offshore who were there first. This is a common sense policy, reverse order is the same as seniority, a principle in which all unions are built upon. It was a couple years after someone began calling it by the accounting term “Lifo” (Last – in – first – out)

    2) The offshore employs hundreds of Newfoundland and Labradorians from 116 communities in our province.

    You’re very right in saying it should concern each and every one of us so thanks for writing the article! The most important message I feel is at the end of the day there are no villains here, we’re all Newfoundland and Labradorians who unfortunately are trying to manage a declining resource.

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