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Newfoundland & Labrador’s Northern Shrimp Inshore Fleet: a lesson in the importance of small scale fisheries

5 years ago, Written by , Posted in Academia

An interesting report coming out of a study exploring the impacts of political decisions to cut back quota allocations from small scale fishers in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Guest post by Dr. Erin Carruthers on

Small scale fisheries are crucial for the social and economic well-being of coastal communities. But when push comes to shove, we need data to back up the sentiment. In the case of Newfoundland and Labrador’s (NL) Northern Shrimp inshore fleet, the shove came in the form of DFO allocations of a declining resource.

In 2014, the inshore fleet allocation was cut 26% from 2013 levels while offshore allocation was cut by just 5%. Northern shrimp cuts to the inshore will hurt coastal communities throughout the province, which was acknowledged in the public debates but no one was getting to specifics. How will these cuts affect fishermen and women, onshore processors, plant workers, communities and regions?

Shoveling shrimp (Photo: FFAW)As a fisheries scientist, I did the obvious and set up a survey of inshore shrimp harvesters and matched that information to reported landings. Robert Keenan, who worked with Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador before joining Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW), approached the question using municipal tax information. I should specify here that we focussed on the impacts of allocation of quota cuts between the fleets not on quota cuts tied to declining shrimp abundance.

Key differences between the inshore and offshore shrimp fleets mean cuts to the inshore will have major impacts on onshore communities. The inshore shrimp quota is fished by 250 locally owned and operated vessels. The inshore shrimp fleet lands all of its catch in NL, which is sold to local plants for processing. Shrimp landed by the inshore fleet supports ten shrimp plants in coastal NL. These plants employ close to 1500 people and are regional economic hubs. The offshore does not sell any of its catch to local processers.

The inshore fleet landed northern shrimp at 25 ports, corresponding to 1383 landing events in 2014. Inshore fish harvesters buy groceries, refuel and pay for routine maintenance each time they land shrimp. These three expenditures alone amount to over $11 million dollars injected into local economies in 2014.

And it’s not just about Northern Shrimp. The inshore fleet participates in other fisheries. Northern shrimp landings contribute to the overall financial viability of the fishing enterprise. The proportion of fishing revenues from northern shrimp ranged from 26% in the south to over 60% in the north. This means Northern Shrimp cuts will undermine the financial viability of related fisheries, particularly along the Northeast Coast and Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland and in southern Labrador.

Over the past five years, the inshore fleet has landed over 450 million pounds of raw shrimp to be processed in local plants. Shrimp plants will close if things continue on the way they have been, and plant closures will undermine municipal revenues and therefore, residents’ quality of life….

The importance of shrimp plants to municipal revenues can be understood by relating the dollar value to the cost of municipal services. In Port au Choix, the shrimp plant accounted for just 1.5% of the total number of businesses in the town but the plant’s 2013 tax payment accounted for 23% of all commercial tax revenue. The 2013 tax paid by the shrimp plant could cover the cost of snow clearing and street lighting in the town; or it could cover the salary costs of municipal staff; or it could cover two-thirds of the cost of operating the town’s water supply, which, aside from debt servicing, was the biggest single expense for Port au Choix in 2013.

What will happen when plants close? Municipal revenues will decline. With less revenue, municipalities may not maintain infrastructure such as the local water system, which was likely built to meet the needs of the plant. This happened in Jackson’s Arm, a community at the base on the Northern Peninsula. The local water system was not maintained after two fish plants closed. Residents now bring containers to a central building to collect their drinking water.

Northern shrimp allocation decisions will not only affect fish harvesters and plant workers but all residents in these fishing regions because of impacts on services such as snow clearing and potable water. These are the likely impacts of ongoing – and disproportionate – cuts to the inshore.

Ultimately, Northern Shrimp allocation decisions are political. We now have the data to show the impacts of these decisions. We can show that, yes, the inshore northern shrimp fleet is crucial for the social and economic well-being of coastal communities in Newfoundland and Labrador.

*You can read the full report by Dr. Erin Carruthers and Robert Keenan titled The Northern Shrimp Fishery: The Socio-Economic Importance of Maintaining Adjacency in Allocation Decisions*

Dr. Erin Carruthers is a Fisheries Scientist at Fish, Food, and Allied Workers (FFAW/Unifor) in Newfoundland and Labrador.