Thursday, July 17, 2008

53 licensed vessels in quest of your dinner

"And they have no plan, they just stare at the wall and ignore us."-- Area "A" Crab Association Executive Director Geoff Gould, expressing his frustrations with DFO over issues that continue to cause concern with the crab industry.

The supply of crab should skyrocket on the North coast in the next few days as the Area A Crab Association vessels haul in their traps from as the first crabbing opportunity of the season got underway on Wednesday.

This years season as always is one with a little hope, a lot of hard work and a fair amount of concern for the future.

While the boats and their crews are out seeking their catch and hoping to make their season, questions remain about the future of the crab fishery as a number of issues continue to simmer on the boil.

From wind farm development, to government bureaucracy the local crab fleet keeps equal amount of watch on weather, crabs and government edicts.

The Daily News story first appeared on the Vancouver Sun website last night, making its Prince Rupert debut as the front page story in the local paper on Thursday afternoon, featuring details on one of the key resources for the North coast.

Fleet sailed out for new season yesterday with optimism and plenty of investment
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Pages one and three

Despite great uncertainty about the future of the Area "A" Crab fishery, the fleet began setting their gear yesterday morning at precisely 8 a.m. as the season opened.

All 53 licenced vessels will be hoping to fill their holds with sweet dungeness crab from Hecate Strait, before returning to Prince Rupert and Massett with their first deliveries of the year.
The North Coast commercial fishery provides significant economic stimulus to both Prince Rupert, the Queen Charlotte Islands and surrounding region, contributing approximately $25 million annually to the local economy before any spin-offs are taken into account.

However, the gross revenue of individual vessels is, for the most part a closely guarded secret.
And since there is no way to accurately predict dungeness crab biomass in the area, crews start each year with their fingers crossed in the hope of having their best season yet.

Many people are familiar with the Discovery Channel program Deadliest Catch, which profiles five Alaskan king crab vessels fishing the deadly Bering Sea. While the show documents the dangers those crabbers face, it also highlights the relatively large amounts of money crew members walk away with after several weeks work.

But, Area "A" Crab Association Executive Director Geoff Gould is quick to point out the difference between local crabbers in Hecate Strait and the crew of vessels like Time Bandit in the Bering Sea.

"It is a grind and it's hard work. We've certainly had one year in the last 10 that was a total bunker year where everybody does make a lot of money, deckhands make $50,000 and everybody is really excited," said Gould.

"But then you get the average years where it's a real grind a lot of hard work. And then you've got the gear, which is about $250 for a crab line and bouy. They're working at least 500 or 600 of those, and each boat has invested about $200,000 in gear. So it's not just a 'Go out there and rake in the money' kind of show. It's a big investment, there's a lot of gear losses and big expenses to it."

Combined with the uncertainty of crab numbers each season is the fact that under the current provincial management plan, every three years crab licence holders have the option of re-selecting their licences to any one of British Columbia's seven crab management areas.

The last re-selection year in 2006 saw the addition of 15 licences to Area "A," which meant a 15 per cent reduction in gear allowance for each vessel in the North Coast fleet in order to make room for the new vessels. With the 2009 season being another re-selection year, the Area "A" Crab Association is concerned that even more vessels will choose Area "A," as the southern areas become depleted, causing a further reduction in vessel production of current licence holders in the area.

"It's a real concern, but it's also a total unknown, because until somebody puts an application in you don't know that they're moving," said Gould.

"But we do know that areas down south are under a lot of pressure, like Tofino and West Coast Vancouver Island having problems with sea otters eating all their crab. So those guys are having difficulty making a living, and they're going to want to move somewhere. We've always felt that since we're managing our area successfully we're getting penalized unfairly, because people from the poorly managed areas are going to want to move here."

Gould said the association has told Fisheries and Oceans Canada on numerous occasions that they want a permanent area established so that they can manage it effectively, but feels the department has yet to show any real concern.

The Area "A" Crab Association feels they are fully prescribed with 53 licences, and are adamant that DFO has no long-term plan for the management of the resource.

"[DFO] comes out with an annual management plan, and we've asked them point-blank 'what are you doing if 50 boats decide to move here? Because we can't handle that,'" said Gould.

"And they have no plan, they just stare at the wall and ignore us. We've written, told and harassed them that they need a long-term plan for this area movement thing in the fishery, and the department seems incapable of solving it."

Gould admits it is unlikely that as many as 50 boats would re-select Area "A" next season, but that under the management plan it is a possibility.

However, nobody will know how many vessels plan on re-selecting until the applications are all submitted in October. In the meantime the Area "A" crab fleet will be hard at work in Hecate Strait making the best of this summer's season, and in the competitive spirit of commercial fishing, each crew is hoping to prove most successful when they make their first deliveries as soon as this weekend.

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