Crab fishery important, says new report

  • Oct. 6, 2004 8:00 a.m.

By Mariah McCooey–The crab fishery makes a substantial economic contribution to the northern economy, especially in Masset and Prince Rupert, according to a report just released.
Commissioned by the Area A Crab Association, based in Prince Rupert, the report is subtitled ‘a significant stimulus to the northern economy’, and details that crabs caught in the Hecate Strait translated into $22-million last year. It also shows that 85-percent of that money was re-circulated in the north.
“Prior to this report, we didn’t really know what exact value the crab fishery had,” said Geoff Gould, CEO of the Association, “and now that we have it, we’re showing everybody.” Mr. Gould said that the purpose of the report (paid for by the association) is to prove that crab is a viable and sustainable industry – especially in light of the discussion on oil and gas, “which will definitely not benefit the crab fishery.” We want to show people, he said, that there is already this great industry here that should not be jeopardized.
There are 41 licensed vessels operating with the Area A boundaries, which extend from the Alaska panhandle to close to Port Hardy, mostly fishing in Hecate Strait between the islands and the mainland. In 2003, these boats collectively brought in almost 5,000 tonnes of crab. 2003 was an unusually good year though, as the crab yield is subject to extreme natural fluctuations (the 2000 season, for example, yielded just over 1,000 tonnes).
Area A is just one of seven management areas for Dungeness Crab, and the total BC fleet of crab fishermen is 222 licensed vessels. In 2003, though, a full two-thirds of the catch came from the 41 Area A boats.
The fishing vessels use traps, baited with squid or fish, and set on the seafloor. The traps are then hauled hydraulically to the vessel, the crabs are unloaded and held live in seawater tanks until they get to shore. The catch is then delivered to one of two buyers in Masset or one of six in Prince Rupert. Twenty-five percent of the catch is delivered to the islands for processing , where buyers in Masset (CB Island Fisheries and Omega) process the crab into cooked and frozen whole crab, meat, or sections, and then ship it by ferry and truck to Vancouver for distribution.
The sustainability of the fishery is ensured by federal fisheries’ regulations, which enforce a closed season during breeding and moulting, the throw-back of any females rule, a minimum size of 6.5 inches, a maximum ‘gear soak’ time of 18 days, as well as trap limits per boat.
Another benefit of the fishery is that there is relatively little by-catch, said Mr. Gould. “Other fisheries, they kill all kinds of different fish – whereas the only by-catch in our traps is the odd starfish.”
The Area A Crab Association also performs an important enforcement role, since all members are required to install high-tech monitoring equipment, including radio tags on all traps, a digital video camera, GPS, and electronic harvest log software. This Vessel Monitoring System was originally designed to counteract theft and vandalism, but has evolved to be a critical management component for the fishery. Area A is currently the only place on the coast that uses these systems – but DFO has recently announced that it will be implementing a similar system coastwide, after seeing the success it has had in Area A.
Economically, the industry provides 146 jobs annually – and well-paid ones, too, with the average crabber’s take at over $70,000 per nine-month season. Of the $9.8-million paid in wages, it is estimated that 85-percent of it is spent in the north, unlike the northern salmon industry, where less than 20-percent of the fleet is operated by northern interests. By comparison, the wage payments for northerners from salmon fishing in 2003 was less than $2-million.
The Area A crab fleet also spent $1.4-million on the islands in goods and services – in the form of food, fuel, and bait, and minor repairs.
This industry provides a major booster to the economy, especially in a time when many people are moving away due to the downturn in the forest industry. According to the report, this particular fishery and its year-round well paid jobs contribute to the diversification of the northern economy. “So is this a shameless promo?” asked Mr. Gould, “of course it is! We want to show people that this is a viable industry.”

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