Longliners across Newfoundland and Labrador are tied up once again, as a new protest by the province's fish harvesters threatens to derail the crab fishery for a second straight year.

The crab season for most parts of the province opened on April 6, but fishing vessels remain tied to wharves — and crab pots have been left on land — as harvesters, again, dispute the price set by a government-appointed panel.

"No one made no money in 2023," said Glen Winslow, a crab fisherman and a representative with the Fish Food and Allied Workers union (FFAW).

"I certainly didn’t break even. I spent a lot more money than I took in in 2023, and I don’t intend to do it in 2024."

Last year, fish harvesters left their boats tied up for six weeks, hoping to force the minimum price higher than $2.20 per pound.

An arbitrator ruled that the tie-up constituted an illegal work stoppage, which broke the rules of a collective agreement between the FFAW and the Association of Seafood Processors.  The union may have to pay penalties.

At a news conference on Wednesday, union leaders said they were — and are — simply listening to their members, who are independent business owners, and who've decided that fishing for this year’s price isn’t worth it.

Greg Pretty

"You can’t put handcuffs on a union not to speak when things are going south," Greg Pretty, the president of the FFAW, said.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Fish Price Setting Panel set this year’s price at $2.60 per pound, siding with a submission from the seafood producers over the fisheries union.

Pretty said the independent government panel made a mistake, and disregarded a comprehensive review of the fishery that written just last year.

"The Blackwood formula would have fixed all of our problems," Winslow said. "But it was thrown out at the last minute."

The Association for Seafood Producers did not respond to a request for comment, but said it would speak to the media about the tie-up on Thursday.

The tie-up is unlikely to hit Canadian consumers as most of the province’s crab is shipped by the processors to destinations in the United States.

The crab fishery has become a lifeline for rural Newfoundland, a major employer in the fishery since the North Atlantic cod stock collapsed in 1992.

Empty crab pots

Business boomed in 2021 and 2022, when the average price for pound of crab caught soared above $7.

But it collapsed last spring, when the price tumbled to just $2.20 per pound. It was the lowest price seen in a decade.

FFAW Secretary-Treasurer Jason Spingle said he’s heard from members who are hurting and struggling to pay the debt they took on the buy or build fishing businesses.

"He paid the interest," he said Wednesday, recounting one conversation this spring.

"That's what he paid. Now, how many years can you do that before you can't do it anymore? Just pay the interest, not $0.01 the principal."