Saturday, May 9, 2009

Recession sinking crab industry, N.L. processors say

Recession sinking crab industry, N.L. processors say Seafood association executive director Derek Butler says the market for crab is depressed, and seafood producers simply cannot afford what fishermen want to charge. (CBC)

A stalemate is continuing over Newfoundland and Labrador's key fishing industry, with a government-appointed panel refusing to bend to processors demanding lower prices for crab.

The price-setting panel said Thursday afternoon it would not adjust a setting of $1.40 per pound for crab — a decision that upsets both the union representing fishermen and the processors who buy their catch.

Earlier this week, the panel lowered the price from $1.55, but processors demanded a further cut, while most refused to buy any product until the price dropped.

Derek Butler, executive director of the Association of Seafood Producers, said harvesters must understand that the recession in North America has made crab a luxury item. About 70 per cent of the crab caught off Newfoundland is shipped to the U.S.

"Consumers are making the choice to walk past crab, as they have the prerogative to do in difficult times, and they're picking up bread, milk and rice," Butler said.

While a few companies are currently buying, most are refusing to pay the price set by the panel, a government-appointed body created several years ago to smooth over contentious disputes during the once-lucrative crab season.

For their part, fishermen believe the market will bear higher prices.

But Butler told CBC News that a sagging market and a rebounding Canadian dollar are bleeding the industry. He said the realistic price in the marketplace should be about $1.12 per pound.

"That's the truth of the math," he said. "That's not my math. That's the world we're in, so then if we have a problem, let's come to the table and try to solve it."

But Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union has blasted processors for using the economic troubles to make heavy demands in pricing. Many fishermen said they cannot make money at current prices.