Troubled Waters | JIM FURLONG

What has happened this spring over the crab fishery is enough to bring tears to this old set of eyes. However, they are expected tears.

We talk about the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery as though it were a single thing instead of many complicated things all strung with not everyone on the same page – or even following the same agenda. We have argued and fought about every species imaginable and this time it’s the crab fishery. We watched the crab producers against the FFAW. We watched fishermen against their union threatening to go fish, whatever the price. That price as of this hour is $2.20, a shadow of last year’s price. 

This all has a familiar ring to it. It has always been “us and them” down through the centuries. The fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador has always been a fishery of conflicting interests. I say the fishery but as you know it is many fisheries. There are many interests at stake. Those that buy fish and those who catch it and sell it and those that work in the plants to process it. They are all part of a movie that is playing out in a tragic way and, yes, there is big money on the table. This is not the cod fishery of old. This is a big money business. The price on the table is $2.20 a pound. That is a price that does not work for a lot of boats but having said that there are some large boats because of the economy of scale can do it.

The relationship between the Association of Seafood Producers and the FFAW may be broken beyond repair. The FFAW thinks the ASP may be trying to break the union and, in very recent days, there are hints of a break in solidarity within the union. There are those within the union that have a grievance with the FFAW. There have been perceived threats against those that would consider fishing crab at the low price of $2.20 but there have been suggestions that at least some of the crab fisherman can make a dollar at this year’s price. Making a dollar means not only money for the owners of crab licenses but also money for the crews of those boats. On the sidelines watching it all in anxiety are those who are waiting to work in the crab plants. Those plants were going gangbusters last year. Now they sit idle.

Somewhere in the pages of our history books the fish merchant’s smile. This is not the first conflict we have seen involving primary producers and those that represent them or do business with them. These things have happened in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the seafood industry. They have happened, for Heaven’s sake, in the old west with farmers pitted again cattle owners. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the fight is bitter and ongoing. It is not easy to tell which players are on which team. There is certainly no way of knowing how the game will end or if either team will be a winner.