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Snow Crab Management Update: Building an Alternate Precautionary Approach

October 19, 2019

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of the Union Forum magazine, written by Dr. Erin Carruthers, FFAW-Unifor Fisheries Scientist.

As crab harvesters in this province know, earlier this year the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) put forward a Precautionary Approach (PA) or management framework for the Newfoundland and Labrador Snow Crab fishery. There was, to put it mildly, considerable criticism of the approach. Instead of simply criticizing DFO’s proposed management approach, FFAW committed to developing an alternate management framework for the snow crab fishery that incorporates fish harvester knowledge and expertise.

In essence, PA frameworks are documents that define a healthy zone for the stock, define a critical zone where there is a risk of long-term harm occurring to the stock and define a series of steps in the cautious zone that should help get the stock back to the healthy zone.

PA frameworks should define where you want to be (healthy) and what you are going to do to either get to or stay in the healthy zone (decision rules). PA frameworks should also define the no-go or critical zone.

The key challenge in developing a management framework is to ensure that the definition of zones and decision rules makes sense for that particular fishery.  Do the zones reasonably reflect the history of the fishery? Does the management approach address conservation challenges specific to that particular fishery and stock? And crucially, does the management approach help harvesters and fisheries managers meet overall goals for the fishery?

When we began developing an alternate management framework for the NL snow crab fishery, we began by listening to harvesters.

Harvesters from the south coast to southern Labrador had similar goals for the fishery.  Harvesters from all fleets have keen interest in not only understanding what is in the fishery (commercial-sized male crab) but also have keen interest in predicting and protecting incoming recruitment. Overall, harvesters said they wanted to manage for stability.

Harvesters recognize that although the NL snow crab fishery “can never get full stability, the goal is to smooth it out. We want hills, we don’t want mountains.” Harvesters from all fleets agreed that they wanted to avoid handling soft-shell; they wanted to avoid soft-shell outbreaks.

Because the goal is to develop an alternate management framework that works for harvesters, coastal communities and is acceptable to DFO Science and Management, Earl Dawe, retired crab fisheries scientist, and myself as the FFAW fisheries scientist, analyzed data provided by DFO Science. Our results, as well as the fishery objectives defined by the fleets, were then reviewed by harvesters at a series of crab committee and fleet meetings throughout the province. These review meetings occurred in October and November of this year.

Any alternate PA will need to be evaluated against the requirements of a Precautionary Approach Framework as defined by DFO policy. Consequently, our next steps in this process includes producing a document for peer-review by scientists and managers. To do so we will be building upon not only the fishery objectives articulated by harvesters but also their reviews during this recent round of consultations.

Thanks to all for the many hours talking about crab, reviewing catch rate histories, discussing crab life stages and our overall shared goals for the fishery. Hopefully, the outcome will be a management framework that allows the snow crab fleets to achieve the goal of a healthy and sustainable snow crab fishery for years to come.