Snow crab - Estuary and Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence Inshore Areas (12A, 12B, 12C, 13, 14, 15, 16, 16A and 17)
The purpose of this Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP) is to identify the main objectives and requirements of the snow crab fishery in areas 12A, 12B, 12C, 13, 14, 15, 16, 16A and 17 and the management measures that will be used to achieve these objectives. This IFMP is an evergreen working document produced by DFO, in collaboration with industry, and will be updated periodically. This document also provides background information and information related to management of this fishery to staff of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), co-management boards established by law under the regulations on territorial claims (if applicable) and other stakeholders. This IFMP provides a common interpretation of the fundamental “rules” that govern sustainable management of fisheries resources.
This IFMP is not a legally binding instrument which can form the basis of a legal challenge. The IFMP can be modified at any time and does not fetter the Minister’s discretionary powers set out in the Fisheries Act. The Minister can, for reasons of conservation or for any other valid reasons, modify any provision of the IFMP in accordance with the powers granted pursuant to the Fisheries Act.
Where DFO is responsible for the implementing obligation under land claim agreements or from Supreme Court judgments in relation to aboriginal rights, the IFMP will be implemented in a manner consistent with these obligations. In the event that an IFMP is inconsistent with obligations under land claim agreements, the provisions of the land claim agreements will prevail to the extent of the inconsistency.
Regional Director, Fisheries Management
Table of Contents
- Figure 1. Snow crab landings in the Estuary and northern Gulf of St. Lawrence. From 1979 to 1982, landings were not attributed to their area of origin
- Figure 2. Evolution of worldwide snow crab landings (in thousands of tonnes), 1993-2016
- Figure 3. Evolution of Canadian snow crab landings by province (in thousands of tonnes), 1997-2017p
- Figure 4. Evolution of Quebec snow crab landings by marine sector (in thousands of tonnes), 1997-2017p
- Figure 5. Evolution of Quebec snow crab landings by fishing area (in thousands of tonnes), 2000-2017p
- Figure 6. Evolution of snow crab landings (in tonnes) and total value (in millions of dollars) for Quebec and Newfoundland snow crab fishers in Area 13 between 2000 and 2017
- Figure 7. Gulf of St. Lawrence snow crab prices on the US east coast and average landed price in Quebec, 1994-2017
- Figure 8. Coral and sponge conservation areas and the boundary lines of the snow crab fishing areas in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence
- Figure 9. Standard traps
- Figure 10. Japanese trap
- Figure 11. Illustration of inshore snow crab fishing areas A to E (13 to 17 since 1986) and NAFO areas (4RST) between 1983 and 1986
- Figure 12. Illustration of snow crab fishing areas in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1998
- Figure 13. Illustration of snow crab fishing areas in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence since 2014
- AFR 1985 - Atlantic Fishery Regulations, 1985
- AFS - Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy
- AQIP - Quebec Fish Processors Association (QFPA)
- C&P - Conservation and Protection Branch
- CAFSAC - Canadian Atlantic Fisheries Scientific Advisory Committee
- CHP - Conservation Harvesting Plan
- CIL - Cold intermediate layer
- CPUE - Catch per Unit Effort
- CSAS - Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat
- CSSP - Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program
- DFO - Fisheries and Oceans Canada
- FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- FSC - Food, social and ceremonial purposes
- GROCRABE - Genetics, Reproduction and Ontogeny of Snow Crab
- IFMP - Integrated Fisheries Management Plan
- IQ - Individual Quota
- ITQ - Individual Transferable Quota
- MAPAQ - Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec
- MLI - Maurice Lamontagne Institute
- MMPA - Marine Mammals Protection Act
- MPA - Marine Protected Area
- MSC - Marine Stewardship Council
- OEABCM - Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures
- PA - Precautionary approach
- RFMB - Regional Fisheries Management Branch
- RGD - Regional General Directorate
- RMAAA - Resource Management, Aquaculture and Aboriginal Affairs Branch
- SARA - Species at Risk Act
- SFA - Snow crab fishing area
- TAC - Total Allowable Catch
- VMS - Vessel Monitoring System
1. Overview of the fishery
The snow crab fishery in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence began in the late 1960s with several fishers from the Gaspé Peninsula and New Brunswick participating. It is estimated that about 1,000 tonnes of snow crab were caught mainly west of the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence. However, due to poor market conditions and a likely decrease in the abundance of crabs on the fishing grounds, catches subsequently dropped to minimal levels before starting to increase again in 1978. The crab fishery experienced a marked expansion from 1978 to 1985 when the number of fishers, effort, area covered and landings increased considerably. From 1987 to 1989, a significant decrease in landings throughout the area was observed due to the low recruitment of snow crab in the late 1970s. Landings began to increase as early as 1990-1991 and reached a record high of 7,245 t in 1995. A second increase in landings, following a slight decline from 1996 to 1997 bringing the total volume to a peak of 10,372 t in 2002. In 2003, a reduction in quotas was imposed in response to indices of overfishing, which led to a significant decrease in landings. Furthermore, the snow crab stock in Area 13 was under moratorium from 2003 to 2007 inclusively. Figure 1 presents the history of snow crab landings in inshore areas from 1979 to 2017.
Figure 1 shows snow crab landings between 1979 and 2017 in snow crab fishing areas 12A, 12B, 12C, 13, 14, 15, 16, 16A and 17. Between 1979 and 1982, landings were not attributed to their area of origin.
Establishment of snow crab fishing areas
In the early 1960s, Quebec and New Brunswick harvesters fished snow crab in the Port-Cartier region of Quebec’s North Shore (DFO, 1985a). From 1978 onwards, the fishing zone gradually expanded eastward in Quebec to Lourdes-de-Blanc-Sablon and westward to Tadoussac (DFO, 1985a). At that time, the Lower North Shore and the Middle and Upper North Shore were the two fisheries management zones, separated by an arbitrary line between Kégaska on the North Shore and Table Health on Anticosti Island. In 1983, these two management zones were divided into five fishing areas, namely Areas A, B, C, D and E, which in 1986 were renamed Areas 17, 16, 15, 14 and 13 respectively (Figure 10) (DFO, 1987). Appendix 3 presents statistics illustrating the evolution of snow crab fishing areas from 1983 to 2018.
In 1985, fishers on the west coast of Newfoundland carried out exploratory fishing in NAFO Division 4R (Figure 12). As Division 4R overlapped Area E at the time, a joint fishing area was created in 1986 and the boundaries of the new Area 13 were extended to include the west coast of Newfoundland from Table Point to Nameless Point and the southern part of Labrador to Amour Point (Figure 12). Snow Crab Fishing Area 13 is the only inshore area in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence in which fishers from another province operate alongside Quebec fishers. A total of 49 permanent licences were issued in Area 13, six of them to Newfoundland fishers. In the 1990s, the collapse of groundfish stocks, the relative abundance of Atlantic snow crab populations and their value on the Japanese and American markets led to increased demand for access to snow crab fishery from traditional groundfish fishers. Thus, between 1994 and 1997, exploratory snow crab fisheries were conducted around Anticosti Island to assess the commercial potential of the snow crab fishery. Three new areas were eventually delineated, namely Areas 12A, 12B and 12C (Figure 12), and their status was changed from exploratory to permanent in 2001.
The last of the nine inshore snow crab areas in the Estuary and northern Gulf of St. Lawrence, Area 16A, was temporarily created in 2002 following the implementation of a temporary snow crab allocation program. In 2001, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans set up a round table—called the Lower North Shore Strategy—that brought together representatives of the Lower North Shore fishing industry and the Department. The purpose of this group was to analyze the precarious situation of fishers on the Lower North Shore and identify possible solutions to help them. Following discussions with representatives of Area 16 fishers, a portion of Area 16 was designated as a temporary fishing sub-area (16A) and allocated to fishers in Quebec’s Lower North Shore core group which consisted of fleets in difficulty. Area 16A was designated as a permanent fishing area in 2014. As of 2018, Quebec fishers licensed in Area 13 are the only fishers who still have access to Area 16A. Figure 13 in Appendix 3 shows the boundaries of the management areas as of 2018.
The Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ, Quebec Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) was responsible for management of the snow crab fishery until 1983, when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) assumed responsibility for managing this fishery. A number of management measures aimed at sound resource management were put in place: limiting fishing effort by controlling the number of licences, the maximum size of vessels (15.2 m) and the fishing season; limiting catches through a global or individual quota system and through limits on the number, size and type of traps used by fishers, as well as the establishment of a minimum legal carapace width of 95 mm. Fishers were authorized to return to the water live white crabs and adolescents in order to conserve the resource. However, the handling and release of white crabs puts their survival at risk. A protocol for closing fishing areas when the proportion of white crabs in landings exceeds 20% has been in effect since 1985 and helps to support resource conservation.
In 1991, total allowable catches (TACs) were established in each area to limit catches and individual quota (IQ) programs were introduced. Global quotas are used to determine IQs and are adjusted annually in each area based on resource fluctuations. IQs were initially established based on each fisher’s history of participation in the fishery and the number of licences granted in the area. Beginning in 1995, snow crab allocations were allocated in certain inshore areas to fishers who did not hold a regular snow crab licence, in order to ensure the economic viability of their fishing enterprises, promote the versatility of fishers, and compensate for income losses in the fisheries targeting other species (groundfish, pelagic). This new access was initially granted through temporary allocations, specifically in Area 17 in 1995, then in Areas 12C and 15 in 2002, and finally in Area 16 in 2008. Temporary allocations were converted to regular permits in Area 16 in 2009, Area 17 in 2012, and Areas 12C and 15 in 2014 respectively. These former temporary allocations constitute the commercial licences that make up Group B at present.
In Area 16, Group C was created following the reassignment of a Group B licence to an Aboriginal community licensed in Group A, before the administrative guidelines for Groups A and B had been put in place. When the guidelines were subsequently implemented, permanent transfer of an individual quota or the reassignment of a licence from one group to another was prohibited.
Stock assessments are used in the process of establishing the TAC and the data used for these assessments come from multiple sources. The first source of information is the fisheries data collection system that was implemented with the beginning of commercial exploitation in the late 1970s, which is based on information obtained from logbooks completed by fishers and purchase slips from processing plants. This collection system was improved in 1983 when DFO introduced at-sea and dockside sampling. This network of samplers made it possible to collect information about the demographic structure of snow crab populations and snow crab condition. The second source of information is beam trawl and trap research surveys that have been conducted during or at the end of the fishing season throughout the territory since 1994. Snow crab harvesters conduct these surveys and the work is done in close collaboration with DFO biologists. The various data sources have revealed a decreasing gradient in productivity along a west-east axis (St. Lawrence Estuary – Lower North Shore of Quebec).
DFO’s development of the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy took off in the wake of the Sparrow decision in the early 1990s, when subsection 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982, which recognizes and affirms the ancestral and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, including the right to fish, was studied in greater detail. An initial Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy (AFS) was implemented in 1992, and its objectives included governing the Aboriginal food, social and ceremonial fishery and providing Aboriginal peoples with the opportunity to participate in fisheries management. In 1994 this strategy was improved following the implementation of the allocation transfer program, which facilitated First Nations’ entry into the commercial fishery without increasing pressure on stocks. Commercial fishers could voluntarily sell their allocations to DFO, which would redistribute them to First Nations groups through communal licences.
On September 17, 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down the Marshall decision, which affirmed, to Mi’gmaq and Meliseet First Nations, the aboriginal right to hunt, fish and gather in pursuit of a “moderate livelihood,” stemming from Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760 and 1761. This decision affected the 34 Mi’gmaq and Maliseet First Nations in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Quebec (Gaspé). The Supreme Court made a clarification on November 17, 1999, stating that this right had its limits and that this fishery could be regulated.
In response, in January 2000, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) launched the Marshall Response Initiative to negotiate interim fisheries agreements, giving First Nations increased and immediate access to the commercial fishery. This initiative was largely inspired by the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy (AFS). This initiative was strongly inspired by the AFS.
The Marshall Response Initiative’s objectives are:
- to provide Mi’gmaq and Maliseet communities in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec (Gaspé) with access to commercial fisheries;
- to assist First Nations in building and managing their fishing activities; and
- to maintain a peaceful and orderly commercial fishery.
Beginning in 2000, DFO began buying back snow crab licences and quotas in order to assign them to Aboriginal communities. 11 communities in Quebec obtained licences and quotas through funding programs. Snow crab fishing is still the main driver for economic development for the communities today. A few communities established joint ventures to gain greater access to this resource.
Snow crab licences were issued under the Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licences Regulations. Through their involvement in the commercial fishery and the available training programs, participating First Nations have significantly increased employment and economic benefits for their communities.
1.2. Types of fishing
The inshore snow crab fishery is a commercial fishery. There is no food, social and ceremonial (FSC) fishery. Communal licences for commercial fishing are issued in Areas 12A, 12B, 15, 16 and 17.
In 2017, 277 snow crab licences were active in the inshore areas of the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence. A licence is considered active when the licence holder makes at least one landing during the season. Table 1 provides a summary of the number and type of active licences for each inshore area in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence for 2017.
|Fishing Area||Group||Number of active licences||Number of inactive licences|
|12C and 15||B||50¹||0||50||0||0||0|
¹Active licence in one or both of areas 12C and 15.
1.4. Location of the fishery
The snow crab fishery in the Estuary and northern Gulf of St. Lawrence takes place at depths between 50 and 200 m. Figure 13 shows the snow crab fishing areas. In December 2017, 11 closure areas were established with a view to the conservation of cold-water corals and sponges. Snow crab fishing with traps has been prohibited in these areas ever since. Figure 7 in section 7.3 indicates the location of these closure areas in snow crab fishing areas.
1.5. Fishery characteristics
Baited traps are used for this type of fishing. Two types of traps can be used in coastal snow crab fishing areas: standard traps and Japanese traps (also known as conical traps). A picture of each type of trap is included in Appendix 2. The number and type of traps differ between fishing areas. Generally, two Japanese traps can replace one standard trap. The fishing areas in which licence holders may fish are indicated in their Conditions of licence. The table in Appendix 1 lists the number of standard traps authorized per fisher and the at-sea observer coverage by fishing area and group for the 2018 season.
The fishery targets only males with a carapace width ≥ 95 mm. White crabs (which have recently moulted) and adolescent crabs can be returned to the water during fishing to enable them to participate in reproduction and increase their meat yield.
The inshore snow crab fishery is managed under an individual transferable quota (ITQ) program, with the exception of Group A in Areas 12C and 15, and Newfoundland fishers in Area 13, who are subject to an individual quota (IQ) regime. ITQ programs include self-adjustment mechanisms for quota transfers between fleet members and provide flexibility in the management of their businesses in addition to encouraging their economic viability. In a given area, each ITQ and IQ represents a percentage of the overall allocation for that area. Administrative guidelines were developed for licences in Areas 17, 16, 16A, 14, 13, 12A, 12B, as well as for Group B licences in Areas 12C and 15. These administrative rules govern the transfer of licences within each of these fleets. The individual quotas of the licence holders in the fleets concerned are ITQs. As of 2018, no administrative guidelines have been put in place for Group A in Areas 15 and 12C. The quotas of the licence holders belonging to these groups are therefore IQs. See section 6 on for more detailed information on resource allocation and sharing.
The opening of the fishery coincides with the retreat of the ice and the arrival of warmer temperatures. The presence of ice can be an obstacle to navigation and a safety issue. Air temperatures below 0 ºC may constitute unfavourable conditions for snow crab fishing. The season begins earlier in the southern areas where the ice retreats earlier than in areas farther north. At the earliest, in more southerly areas the fishing season opens around late March and early April, and ends in June or July, while in more northerly areas it can open in early May and end in mid-August.
The fishing activities are subject to the Fisheries Act and its regulations, more specifically the Atlantic Fishery Regulations, 1985 and the Fishery (General) Regulations. Since 2002, the Species at Risk Act has stated rules for endangered and threatened species.
The Resource Management, Aquaculture and Aboriginal Affairs Branch (RMAA) of the Quebec Region manages the snow crab fishery in Areas 13 to 17, 12A to 12C and 16A.
Peer review is a first process in the management cycle. Quality scientific advice and information is provided through rigorous peer reviews. A peer review is conducted to assess snow crab stocks in the Estuary and northern Gulf of St. Lawrence. It provides the opportunity for discussions between various fishery stakeholders which promote the provision of reliable scientific advice. The advisory report presents the outlook for each fishing area and makes recommendations on harvest rates for the following season. These recommendations are discussed by the advisory committee in each area with a view to proposing a harvesting scenario to the Department.
A second process in the management cycle is the advisory committee process. For coastal snow crab, a committee is held for each of the management areas. These industry and First Nations consultations are coordinated by the Area Director of the Management Area. The recommendations made by industry and First Nations at these meetings are considered in decision-making related to fisheries management measures. Several DFO stakeholders are also involved in the decision-making process, including directors of other sectors, science and the senior advisor for the species. The final recommendations are presented to the Regional Fisheries Management Branch (RFMB).
1.7. Approval process
Snow crab management plans, including TACs for each fishing area, are approved by the RFMB, with the exception of Interregional Area 13, which is approved at the Regional General Directorate (RGD) level for the Quebec and Newfoundland-and-Labrador regions. The RFMB’s receives recommendations from various stakeholders, including the industry, to support decision making.
Development of the IFMP is coordinated by the Resource Management, Aquaculture and Aboriginal Affairs Branch (RMAAA) in Quebec. The document drafting and consultation processes involve the Resources Management and Aquaculture division, Strategic Services and Science branch from the Quebec region; the Newfoundland-and-Labrador region; fishers’ organizations; First Nations; the processing industry; and the provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland-and-Labrador. The final version of the IFMP is approved by the RFMB and by the Regional Director General (RDG) of the Quebec Region to allow publication on the DFO national website.
2. Stock assessment, science and traditional knowledge
2.1. Biological synopsis
Snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) is a crustacean belonging to the Oregoniidae family. Like other crustaceans, this crab grows by passing through successive moults during which it sheds its exoskeleton (shell) and absorbs water in order to increase the volume of its new shell. Moulting generally takes place between April and June. Newly moulted snow crabs are called “white crabs” because of the immaculate white colour of their abdomen. In both sexes, growth ceases for good after a so-called “terminal” moult, which occurs at variable sizes. Males with a carapace width of over 40 mm that have not yet undergone their terminal moult can be identified by their small claws and are called “adolescents” (or “sub-adults”). Males that have undergone their terminal moult can be identified by their larger claws relative to those of adolescents; they are called “adults”. Delays in moulting or skip moulting can occur in immature and adolescent crabs and these events appear to be related to density-dependent factors. The size of adult males varies between about 40 and 165 mm and adult females between 40 and 100 mm. Snow crabs live for slightly more than seven years after their terminal moult and their shell condition changes during this period, first hardening for several months after moulting and then deteriorating in the last years of life. High-value commercial males are available to the fishery from about eight months to four years after the terminal moult, depending on the region.
Females mate early in the spring upon their terminal moult; they may mate a second time after incubating their first brood under their abdomen for one or two years (they are called “primiparous” at the first incubation), depending on the ambient water temperature. Females are polyandrous and can therefore be inseminated by more than one male during each breeding season; they store the excess sperm in their spermathecae (reservoirs in the cephalothorax). Dominant males (the largest males with an intermediate shell condition) save their sperm by adjusting copulation time and the quantity of sperm allocated to females in response to the sex ratio and type of females available. If they incubate their eggs for two years, females will have two or three broods during their lifetime. Eggs hatch in spring and larvae stay in the water column for three to five months before settling to the bottom in late summer or fall. A male crab usually reaches the legal size of 95-mm carapace width about nine years after hatching.
Since the fishery is directed at catching dominant males, there is potential for a serious conflict between the fishery and the annual reproductive success of each stock.
Snow crab populations in the Estuary and northern Gulf of St. Lawrence show natural fluctuations in their abundance over a period of about eight to 12 years. During each period, recruitment fluctuates between consecutive low-abundance year-classes, collectively referred to as “recruitment troughs,” and consecutive moderate-to-high abundance year-classes, collectively referred to as “recruitment waves.” The emergence of recruitment waves and troughs is not perfectly synchronous in the northern Gulf due to factors related to the productivity of the snow crab stocks and the natural environment. It is believed that these near-cyclical fluctuations in abundance are caused by intrinsic factors such as cannibalism and competition for space and food among small snow crabs. Other factors such as spawning biomass, abundance of natural predators and shifts in timing of plankton blooms and in climatic conditions that are favourable or unfavourable to the survival of larvae and juveniles could influence the level of abundance observed during the natural cycle.
The snow crab is an arctic-boreal species that prefers saltwater (salinity above 26‰) at temperatures below 4 °C, with at least part of the water with a temperature of 0 to 2 °C and an oxygen saturation level above 70%. The overlying surface layer must warm up to a temperature of 8 to 15 °C for at least a few weeks in order for a substantial proportion of the larvae released by the females to survive and metamorphose. Throughout their benthic phase, snow crab feed on invertebrates on the sea bottom. Habitat preferences may vary with gender and age. In general, large crabs are associated with muddy, sandy mud or fine sand substrates. Immature crabs generally prefer a finer substrate with woody debris and algae in which they can easily bury themselves and find the shelter they need to survive.
A review of recent oceanographic data has shown that the cold intermediate layer (CIL) in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has cooled considerably and increased in area since the mid-1980s. The CIL is the preferred habitat of snow crab. This generally favourable situation allowed the species to expand its home range and accommodate significant recruitment waves in the 1980s and 1990s. In contrast, in the northern part of Area 13, the decrease in temperatures to extreme levels led to a decrease in commercial productivity. The CIL is currently warming, a trend that could lead to significant changes in snow crab habitat over the medium to long term.
2.2. Ecosystem interactions
Off the coast of Alaska, snow crab can serve as prey for at least 18 different species, mostly fish. On Canada’s east coast, cod and thorny skate are the snow crab’s main predators. Since groundfish abundance is very low at this time compared to the early 1980s, snow crab mortality from predation has likely declined in recent years, ensuring better survival.
2.3. Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge/Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge/Traditional Ecological Knowledge in the form of observations and comments provided by Aboriginal groups is considered in management decisions when provided.
2.4. Stock assessment
The DFO Science Branch prepares a stock status report and prepares scientific advice for each fishing area on the basis of their research and analyses. This report is presented to the snow crab advisory committee for each area and is published on the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) website.
A trap research survey is conducted annually at the end of the fishing season in partnership with fishers in each fishing area. This post-season survey, introduced between 1994 and 2000 depending on the area, is used, in conjunction with the estimate of fishing yields for the current year, to calculate a short-term abundance index (1 year) of commercial-sized crabs which is used to adjust annual catch quotas (i.e. TAC).
In addition, trawl surveys, which were initiated in 1988 in the northern Gulf and in 1992 in the Estuary, make it possible to determine the size of year-classes of crabs as soon as they appear on the bottom, i.e. approximately nine to ten years before individuals are caught in the fishery. These surveys were conducted annually in a portion of Area 16 (Baie Sainte-Marguerite) and in Area 17, and sporadically in Areas 13 and 14. Since 2004, DFO has adopted an approach whereby it alternates coverage by covering Areas 13 and 14 in even years and Areas 16 and 17 in odd years, while the Baie Sainte-Marguerite survey is still conducted annually. This approach provides an overview of long-term trends for certain snow crab stocks in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence; this information complements the annual post-season research surveys conducted in partnership with industry.
2.4.1. Area 13 moratorium from 2003 to 2007
A moratorium was imposed on snow crab fishing in Area 13 in 2003 to allow the stock to recover to an acceptable level. This decision followed a decline in catch per unit effort (CPUE) and in average crab size, which was accompanied by a deterioration in size structure from 2000 to 2002, and a failure to meet the TAC in 2002 despite a sharp reduction in the allowable catch level.
In the years following the moratorium, a workshop was held to establish criteria for a possible reopening of the fishery. These criteria were established based on the historical performance of Area 13 and the recent performance of neighbouring Area 14. The criteria were the achievement of a CPUE of seven legal-size crabs per Japanese trap with a median size of 104 mm. Both criteria (number and size) had to be met on both the north side (Mecatina Trough) and the south side (Esquiman Channel) of Area 13 during post-season surveys.
Monitoring of population status was conducted throughout the moratorium through two annual trap surveys (one on each side of the Area), scientific fisheries of about 50 t, and a biennial trawl survey. The size structure improved overall in 2007 and the 2006 trawl survey showed that a strong recruitment wave (crabs smaller than 40 mm) was present on the north side. Population status on the north side has improved slightly but it has not reached the thresholds required to reopen the fishery. On the south side, there has been a marked recovery in the population and the criteria for reopening have been met since 2005.
At a workshop at the MLI in January 2008, results were presented that established temperature as one of the important factors determining the terminal moult size of female and male crabs. The colder the temperature, the more likely crabs are to undergo their terminal moult at a small size. This will reduce the CPUE and median size of legal-size crab, all other things being equal. Data were also presented indicating that the north side of Area 13 is significantly colder than the south side and that this disparity has increased in recent years. It was found that, on average, the Mecatina Trough is colder in the east (Area 13) than in the west (Area 14) and that the entire northeastern Gulf of St. Lawrence has undergone cooling since the 1990s. Area 13 snow crab appear to be less commercially productive than ever, particularly on the north side. These new data call into question the reopening criteria and explain the less pronounced improvement in the situation of commercial crab on the north side than on the south side of Area 13 since the moratorium was put in place.
In light of this new information, in 2007 the Department decided not to extend the moratorium in Area 13. A catch level of 150 t for two years (2008 and 2009), as proposed by the Working Group on the Precautionary Approach (PA) for Area 13, was established, given that the removal of about 50 t annually as part of the scientific fishery did not affect improvements in the stock condition indices. From 2012 to 2017, TACs gradually increased from 188 t to 406 t.
2.5. Stock scenarios
For each of the nine fishing areas, the Regional Science Branch made three recommendations regarding changes to the TACs for the upcoming fishing season following the annual stock assessment peer review. The formulation of three scenarios, based on changes in biomass indicators, provides Fisheries Management with three different levels of risk for the management of the resource, ranging from a very cautious scenario to a high-risk scenario associated with stock sustainability.
2.6. Precautionary approach
The Precautionary Approach (PA) is part of an overall decision-making framework for implementing a strategy for establishing exploitation rates. It is based on the precautionary principle in decision making when scientific data are uncertain, unreliable or inadequate. The lack of scientific data cannot be given as a reason to avoid taking measures to prevent serious harm to the resource. The precautionary approach is developed in partnership with industry, Science and the Resource Management, Aquaculture and Aboriginal Affairs (RMAA) Branch. Yield indicators are established, making it possible to assess the status of the exploitable biomass. This assessment classifies stock status based on three levels (healthy, cautious and critical), which are delineated by reference levels (upper and lower). The decision rules are based in part on the status of these indicators and allow the exploitation rate to be adjusted based on the productivity of the stock and its capacity to support exploitation. The precautionary approach for the snow crab fishery in the inshore areas of the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence is being developed. More information about the precautionary approach can be found on DFO’s national website in the Fisheries Policies and Frameworks section.
The Science Branch of the Quebec Region carries out research on snow crab. The GROCRABE (Genetics, Reproduction and Ontogeny of Snow Crab) research program, initiated in the early 1990s, had significant immediate impacts in terms of increasing understanding of the biology and management of this species. Among other things, it enhanced our ability to predict recruitment to the fishery, and review and improve current management practices in this fishery. Another national research program was conducted from 2001 to 2003 and focused on some of the factors affecting recruitment to the fishery, including predation by cod, the sex ratio and the level of gender competition (competition between individuals of the same gender) for female reproductive success, and the influence of temperature and density on the growth and survival of juveniles or pre-recruits. Finally, the Quebec Region led a study on the genetic structure of snow crab in the Northwest Atlantic, which was published in 2008. More recently, researchers at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute and their collaborators have been active in studying the role of temperature in triggering terminal moulting.
For the 2008-2017 period, the main scientific highlights of the work involving the Maurice Lamontagne Institute for the Quebec region are as follows:
- Publication of a synthesis of knowledge on the snow crab mating system, based largely on tank experiments at the MLI and field observations in Baie Sainte-Marguerite (near Sept-Îles) and Bonne Bay (west coast of Newfoundland).
- Description of the predator-prey relationship between Atlantic cod and snow crab based on analyses of the stomach contents of cod and allometric relationships describing the mouth size of cod and three measures of snow crab size. This research demonstrated that there was a refuge size for hard-shell snow crab, at about 50 mm CW, a finding that contradicts the assumption related to top-down control of snow crab populations through cod predation on immediate pre-recruits and recruits to the fishery. Since snow crab is not a preferred prey of cod, it is doubtful that cod has controlled the snow crab populations in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
- Estimation of the maximum life expectancy of males after terminal moult and chronology of changes in carapace condition (appearance, hardness, number of missing legs) through tagging and measuring dactyl wear (tips of the walking legs). In a population that is not fished commercially, namely that of the Saguenay Fjord, males live for up to seven or eight years and maintain fairly good carapace condition for about three or four years after terminal moult.
- Demonstration for females and males of a terminal moult size gradient correlated directly with ambient water temperature during benthic life, within the range of temperatures that are preferred/tolerated by snow crab (approximately -1.5 to 4 °C). This implies, among other things, that the portion of the adult male population that is protected by the legal CW size of 95 mm varies depending on habitat temperature conditions: it is larger in the (colder) region of the Lower North Shore than in the (warmer) region of the Estuary.
- Estimation of female mortality rates after terminal moult through simultaneous modelling of changes in abundance and size in the population and estimation of lifetime egg production based on two reproductive cycle scenarios (annual or biennial egg laying). This research on the Sainte-Marguerite Bay population (near Sept-Îles) has shown a high mortality rate, which means that in a biennial reproductive cycle scenario, females are effectively quasi-semelparous (breed once during their lifetime).
- Documentation of the interannual variability of the abundance of age 0+ crabs over a 23-year period (1990-2012), demonstrating an established cyclicity of about eight years. Plausible intrinsic factors contributing to this cyclicity are the variation in egg/larvae production and inter-cohort cannibalism, whereas temperature is be the extrinsic factor that directly and indirectly modulates the survival of larvae and early benthic stages. The time series of abundance of age 0+ crabs was updated to 2017 in Kim Émond’s PhD thesis.
Current applied research priorities to support stock assessment and snow crab management in the short to medium term include the development of the precautionary approach and ecosystem approach. For the latter, the biotic and abiotic factors involved in the spatial and temporal variations of the biomass available to the fishery will have to be identified and integrated into our assessment methods. These priorities should include developing the level and capacity for collaboration with the various stakeholders.
3. Economic, social and cultural considerations
According to data collected from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), worldwide snow crab catches totalled 220,200 tonnes in 2016. Since 1998, Canada has been the main snow crab supplier, followed by Russia, South Korea and the United States.
Figure 2 shows the evolution of world snow crab landings in thousands of tonnes between 1993 and 2016.
|Année/Year||États-Unis/United States||Canada||Russie/Russia||Groenland/Greenland||Corée du Sud/South Korea||Japon/Japan||Autres/Others||Total|
Overall, the global snow crab supply is apparently very stable, despite significant fluctuations in some stocks. From 2000 to 2011, supply varied between 180,000 and 200,000 tonnes. Since 2012, global snow crab landings have totalled more than 220,000 tonnes. In fact, global snow crab landings are higher than the total reported by the FAO, due to a large proportion of Russian snow crab catches that are not included in official statistics.
3.1. Canadian snow crab landings
Since 2007, Canadian snow crab landings have averaged 91,300 tonnes per year for a value of $480 million. This marine fishery is one of the three most important in terms of value in Canada, with the other two being the lobster and shrimp fisheries. In 2017, snow crab accounted for 20% of the total value of catches in the marine fisheries in eastern Canada, placing second after lobster (45%).
Figure 3 shows Canadian snow crab landings by province in thousands of tonnes between 1997 and 2017.
|Year/Année||Newfoundland/Terre-Neuve||Quebec/Québec||Nova Scotia/Nouvelle-Écosse||New Brunswick/Nouveau-Brunswick||Prince Edward Island/Île-du-Prince-Edward||Total|
Newfoundland-and-Labrador is the main province for snow crab landings with a market share of 56% of the total Canadian catch, while Quebec’s share averages 15%. In 2017, Canadian landings increased by 12% in volume and 63% in value. The 106% increase in landings from Area 12 accounts for all of this growth. It should be noted that several fishers from Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia have access to this fishing area. It should also be noted that in Newfoundland, the overall quota decreased by 16% in 2017. Since 2009, Newfoundland snow crab landings have decreased by 37%.
Average landed prices for snow crab in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are often higher than in Quebec and Newfoundland. Indeed, snow crab from the southern Gulf is considered to be of better quality, i.e. larger and with better carapace condition. In addition, competition is stronger among snow crab processing plants in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island than elsewhere.
3.2. Snow crab landings in Quebec
The snow crab fishery is a very important fishery in maritime Quebec and Newfoundland-and-Labrador (NL). In 2017, snow crab ranked first among all marine species with a market share of 36% in volume and 54% in value for Quebec, and 17% in volume and 42% in value for NL. Snow crab landings in Quebec and Newfoundland vary from year to year, as do the variations in quotas of the various fleets. In Quebec in 2017, they totalled 19,502 tonnes, generating gross revenues of $210 million, an increase of 34% in volume and of 89% in value. In NL for the same year, landings totalled 33,605 tonnes, generating gross revenues of $325 million, a 20% decrease in volume and a 19% increase in value. The 106% increase in landings from Area 12 more than offset the decrease of 20% in catches in Area 16 (the second largest fishing area in the Quebec Region), 10% in Area 14, 20% in Area 15, 10% in Area 16A, 7% in Area 12A, and 44% in Area 12B.
The Gaspé and North Shore regions have the largest shares of snow crab landings in Quebec with 54% and 34% respectively. Snow crab landings made by the six Newfoundland fishers in Area 13 represent 0.07% of snow crab landings in the NL region, on average.
Figure 4 shows Quebec snow crab landings by marine sector in thousands of tonnes between 1997 and 2017p.
|Year/Année||Gaspé Peninsula/Gaspésie||North Shore/Côte Nord||Nova Scotia/Nouvelle-Écosse||Total|
|1997||5 359||4 885||1 189||11 433|
|1998||4 544||4 857||943||10 344|
|1999||5 163||5 203||973||11 339|
|2000||5 649||7 309||1 411||14 369|
|2001||5 619||7 512||1 021||14 152|
|2002||8 275||8 020||1 553||17 849|
|2003||7 032||4 006||1 408||12 445|
|2004||8 655||4 000||2 407||15 062|
|2005||9 594||4 469||2 147||16 210|
|2006||7 651||5 469||2 150||15 270|
|2007||6 519||6 299||1 919||14 736|
|2008||5 159||6 284||2 021||13 463|
|2009||6 262||6 991||1 764||15 017|
|2010||2 955||6 890||852||10 696|
|2011||3 199||5 938||767||9 904|
|2012||5 862||6 100||1 566||13 528|
|2013||7 171||6 975||1 746||15 891|
|2014||5 989||8 277||1 689||15 956|
|2015||6 358||6 875||1 533||14 767|
|2016||5 984||7 293||1 260||14 538|
|2017||10 457||6 776||2 268||19 502|
The value of snow crab landings reached an all-time high for a second consecutive year in 2017. The increase in catches combined with an increase in the average landed price for a fifth consecutive year accounts for this strong rise in value.
Figure 5 shows snow crab landings by fishing area. Year in and year out, Areas 12, 16 and 17 lead the way in terms of landing volume. In 2017, they were followed by Areas 14, 15, 12F, 16A, 13, 12C, 12A, 12B and 12E (in descending order). Figure 6 shows the landings and their value for Quebec and Newfoundland fishers in Area 13. On average, NL fishers in Area 13 contribute 14% of the total landings in Area 13. Landings vary from year to year, as do quotas in each area.
Figure 5 shows Quebec snow crab landings by fishing area in thousands of tonnes between 2000 and 2017p. With the exception of areas 12, 16 and 17, data from the other areas were combined to ensure data confidentiality.
|Year/Année||Area 12/Zone 12||Area 16/Zone 16||Area 17/Zone 17||Other areas/Autres zones||Total|
Figure 6 shows the landings (in tonnes) of fishers from Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador in Crab Fishing Area No. 13 between 2000 and 2017p as well as the total volume and value of landings (M$) for this area.
|Year/Année||Québec||Newfoundland and Labrador/Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador||Total volume/Volume total||Total value/Valeur totale (millions $)|
There are price differences between fishing areas as a result of various factors, the main ones being the fishery opening dates (the price of crab is higher at the beginning of the fishing season), the proximity or remoteness of the markets served by the plants, and the size and quality of the crab. The price is often higher in the Magdalen Islands than in other maritime sectors. This may be explained by the fact that this is the region with the lowest landings and, consequently, this limited supply would increase pressure on prices.
3.3. Average Landed Prices
Average landed prices for snow crab in Quebec and Canada generally follow the price trend in a reference market.
Figure 7 shows Gulf of St. Lawrence snow crab prices (Canadian and American dollar) on the US east coast and average landed price in Quebec between 1994-2017.
|Year||Price 5-8oz section ($US/lb) (April-August Average)||Price 5-8oz section ($CAN/lb) (April-August Average)||Qc Average Landing Price ($CAN/lb)|
The price per snow crab section (5- to 8-oz) on the US market increased from US$6.51/lb to US$7.81/lb, or by 20%, between the April to August 2016 and 2017 fishing seasons. The decrease in the US supply of snow crab in Alaska and in Newfoundland quotas accounts for this upward pressure on US dollar prices.
In recent years, the US supply of king crab and snow crab has been declining. After decreasing by 40% during the 2015-2016 fishing season, Alaska snow crab (Opilio) quotas were reduced by 50% during the 2016-2017 fishing season. In addition, the Tanner Crab fishery was completely closed, and Red King Crab quotas were reduced by 15%; both of these species compete with Canadian snow crab because they are also sold in sections. This significant decrease in the global supply of snow crab has resulted in stronger demand for Canadian snow crab and strong upward pressure on average landed prices.
In Canadian dollars, the price went from CAN$8.42/lb in 2016 to CAN$10.17/lb in 2017, a 21% increase, due to weakness of the Canadian dollar relative to the US dollar.
Alaska snow crab (Opilio) quotas will decrease by a further 12% for the 2017-2018 fishing season, for a total of 18.9 million pounds. This is the lowest Alaska snow crab quota since the Crab Rationalization Program was introduced in 2005. Since the 2014-2015 fishing season, when quotas totalled 70 million pounds, Alaska snow crab (Opilio) quotas have fallen by 70%.
3.4. The snow crab fishery economy
In 2017, there were 324 active fishing businesses that made at least one landing in the province; five of these businesses were from outside Quebec. Among the active Quebec fishers, there are 12 Aboriginal businesses or communities on the Gaspé Peninsula and the North Shore for which snow crab is the main species fished. In 2017, snow crab landings made by Aboriginal people totalled 4,490 tonnes, for a value of $48.8 million, representing 51% and 76% respectively of the total volume and value of Aboriginal catches in the Quebec region. In order of importance, Aboriginal communities landed snow crab in Areas 12, 16, 17, 15 and 12A. Areas 12, 16 and 17 are the most lucrative fishing areas for Aboriginal communities.
Snow crab buyers are grouped into three categories according to their activities: seafood processing plants, retail licence holders (including restaurants and fish shops), and consumers. In 2016, 52 Quebec buyers purchased snow crab for processing, wholesale and retail purposes. Snow crab shipments from processing plants in the maritime sectors of Quebec amounted to 12,335 tonnes for a value of $177.9 million, up by 9% and 36% respectively compared to 2016.
The value of shipments of processed snow crab is almost double that of landings. This is attributable to the value added to snow crab before it is shipped by processing plants and other buyers. The products that result from the processing of snow crab include the following: sections (claws and legs), meat (shelled and flaked), whole or shell-on, other forms (incomplete sections, pieces, claws, shoulders, leg ends, etc.).
Snow crab sections are the main type of production for maritime Quebec plants, whose share of shipments is 64% by volume and 71% by value. Whole crab ranks second, accounting for 28% of shipments by volume and 20% by value. Shelled and flaked meat and other product forms are tied for third place, with a 4% share each, in both volume and value.
In terms of jobs, the snow crab fishing industry in Quebec contributes significantly to job creation in the three maritime regions, where the job market is often precarious and seasonal. The primary (harvesting) sector generates 1,260 direct jobs (fisher-owners and fishers’ assistants). In the secondary (processing) sector, the total number of jobs is estimated at 1,443 workers (37% of the total) distributed among the three maritime regions as follows: 624 on the North Shore, 586 on the Gaspé Peninsula/Lower St. Lawrence, and 233 in the Magdalen Islands.
3.5. International snow crab trade
In addition to supplying the domestic market, processing plants export a significant portion of their snow crab production. The value of Canadian and Quebec exports has increased significantly in recent years, mirroring the trend in average landed prices. In 2017, the value of Quebec snow crab exports totalled $186.7 million, a record high level for the third consecutive year, up 23% from 2016 and 203% from 2010. Between 2010 and 2017, the volume exported and the average annual export price of snow crab in Quebec increased by 29% and 136% respectively.
Between 2008 and 2017, the main destination for Quebec exports was the US market, which received 93% of the total volume and value, on average. Japan ranks second, accounting for 5% of the volume and 6% of the value of Quebec snow crab exports. It should be noted that more than 95% of snow crab in Japan is used to make fish sticks and sushi. Snow crab sections are gaining popularity among consumers. China ranks third as a destination for Quebec snow crab exports with a market share of only 1%.
These statistics show that Quebec snow crab exports are not very diversified and are highly dependent on the US market. Further market diversification is desirable, as it would make it possible to offset poor performance in one market with good performance in other markets. The destination countries for Canadian snow crab exports are more diversified, with 75% of Canadian exports shipped to the United States, 14% to China and 7% to Japan. Several other countries also import Canadian snow crab; they account for a 4% market share.
Europe is not a preferred market for snow crab. European consumers consume rock crab to a greater extent. Snow crab in sections is not consumed widely in Western Europe, as it is in North America. For this reason, European demand for snow crab is minimal and this market needs further development.
3.6. Economic issues in the snow crab fishery
In the coming years, a number of economic issues could have both positive and negative impacts on the global snow crab market and, more specifically, on Canadian and Quebec snow crab exports.
In the coming years, snow crab catches in the Barents Sea, which began some time ago, could affect snow crab prices. In 2017, Norwegian snow crab landings totalled 3,100 tonnes, while Russian landings were estimated at 7,800 tonnes, for a grand total of about 10,900 tonnes. Between 2014 and 2017, snow crab catches in the Barents Sea increased by 160%. Although landings are minimal at this time, biomass is abundant and Russia and Norway are interested in exploiting this resource. Increased exploitation of the Barents Sea resource would increase the global snow crab supply and, as a result, decrease international snow crab prices.
The current weakness of the Canadian dollar against the US dollar is a favourable economic factor for Canadian and Quebec exporters. Consequently, snow crab exports at equivalent prices bring Canadian exporters more in Canadian dollars on the main export market, which is the United States. There is no indication in the foreseeable future that the Canadian dollar will appreciate significantly against the US dollar.
With annual export revenues of $350 million, the Quebec fishing industry remains very sensitive to fluctuations in international markets. In this regard, the recent protectionist measures announced by the United States are certainly a source of concern for Quebec manufacturers that export mainly to the United States.
With regard to snow crab specifically, the downward trend in the US domestic supply of snow crab and king crab in recent years has favoured Quebec and Canadian snow crab exporters. Indeed, to satisfy the strong consumer demand for this highly prized shellfish in the United States, US buyers have no choice but to obtain their supplies from Canada, the best economic option due to the geographical proximity of the two markets.
The Association québécoise de l’industrie de la pêche (AQIP) wishes to extend Marine Stewardship council (MSC) certification to the snow crab fishery in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence. This certification provides a competitive advantage in international markets. With the aim of diversifying markets, particularly in Western Europe, this certification would make it possible to both preserve and open markets for northern Gulf snow crab, since US and European consumers are more likely to buy seafood from sustainable fisheries.
In 2017, an alliance of environmental groups in the United States called on the US government to ban snow crab imports from Canada unless the Canadian government stepped up its efforts to save the endangered Atlantic right whales. In 2018, Fisheries and Oceans Canada imposed various management measures on snow crab fishers to ensure that this fishery would not adversely affect the right whale’s survival.
In spite of this, sustainable fishing certification of the snow crab fishery in Area 12 was suspended. In March 2018, the MSC announced that the fishery no longer met the conditions related to endangered, threatened and protected species. As a result, snow crab caught in Areas 12, 12E, 12F and 19 could no longer be sold with the MSC seal certifying it as being from a sustainable fishery. In 2018, DFO put additional management measures in place for the protection of right whales, some of which were developed in conjunction with industry. The MSC assesses annually whether these measures meet the conditions for maintaining the certification.
According to several economists and other world economy experts, there is increasing talk of the possibility of a global economic recession in the near future. When the economy is in recession, there is always a loss of consumer confidence and an associated decrease in spending on various goods. The demand for high-end seafood, such as snow crab, lobster and northern shrimp, is not immune in such a context, as consumers prefer to buy seafood at lower prices. Visits to specialized seafood restaurants (e.g. Red Lobster in the United States) also decrease during a recession. In short, there are well-founded concerns related to uncertainties affecting global demand for snow crab in the coming years.
4. Management issues
The management issues section provides an overview of the major management issues and issues specific to the Estuary and northern Gulf of St. Lawrence snow crab fishery. Management issues for this fishery have been developed according to the fisheries policies and frameworks in place related to the conservation and sustainability of Aboriginal and commercial fisheries. These include the Sustainable Fisheries Framework (SFF), which brings together several frameworks and policies promoting the conservation and the sustainable use of resources, as well as the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy to promote the integration of Firsts Nations communities into fisheries management. The SFF and related policies are available at the DFO website.
The main issues were identified using the fishery’s sustainability profile, the advisory committees’ meeting minutes, pre-assessment reports for MSC’s certification and meeting with the fishing industry and First Nations.
4.1. Sustainable exploitation of snow crab
Conservation of the resource is a high priority in the decision-making process related to the exploitation of the resource. The precautionary approach (PA) is part of the Sustainable Fisheries Framework and requires the establishment of reference points and the development of decision rules to maintain an optimal exploitation rate based on stock status. The elements required to implement the PA, such as indicators, reference points and decision rules, are being developed for the inshore snow crab fishery in the northern Gulf.
Adolescent and white crabs are likely to be caught as bycatch in traps. Increases in catches of soft-shell and adolescent crabs could indicate a decrease in the exploitable biomass. As these crabs represent recruitment, measures must be put in place to monitor catch levels and keep them as low as possible. Adequate monitoring and protection measures must be put in place to limit the catch levels of these components.
Finally, stock assessments are based on scientific data from the fishery or surveys and integrating fishers’ knowledge and know-how is a challenge. This information could assist in interpreting changes in the status of the resource and make it possible to identify possible avenues of research.
4.2. Habitat and ecosystem
Ecosystem impacts on snow crab
The changes in environmental conditions observed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence may have an impact on snow crab population dynamics through their effects on such factors as spatial distribution, growth, reproduction and trophic relationships. The change in the distribution of snow crab could hamper the harmonious use of the same fishing grounds used by different types of fisheries, including shrimp and Greenland halibut.
Other biological components of the ecosystem can affect snow crab. Indeed, small snow crabs are part of the diet of some predators, including cod and striped bass. Increased predation by these species could have an impact on snow crab populations. The presence of invasive exotic species and the introduction of diseases and parasites could pose a health risk for inshore resource and affect snow crab populations. Data collection on predatory species and aquatic invasive species would support efforts to monitor and assess the extent of these phenomena.
Other human activities and environmental incidents, such as oil and gas development and oil spills, could also affect snow crab. Information on snow crab and their habitat must be taken into account when conducting environmental impact assessments or scientific studies on these events.
Impact of the snow crab fishery on the habitat and ecosystem
The snow crab fishery in the inshore areas of the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence covers a large area and therefore a range of diverse environments. As part of its efforts to ensure the protection of biodiversity in Canada, DFO is called on to implement the provisions of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Recovery strategies for species at risk set out specific objectives related to the commercial fisheries. For example, the North Atlantic right whale is a species listed under SARA. Injury and mortality from interactions with fishing gear pose a serious threat to right whales. Interactions are likely to occur between right whales and snow crab fishery activities in the northern Gulf and therefore present a challenge for the recovery of this species. Further information on aquatic species at risk and their recovery strategies is available on the DFO website, under the Aquatic Species at Risk section, at the following address.
The loss or abandonment of fishing gear at sea can have significant effects on the ecosystem as a whole. Impacts can include ghost fishing, entanglement (sea turtles, marine mammals and seabirds), and alteration of the benthic environment. Management of the snow crab fishery must support the conservation, protection and recovery of species at risk, as well as of other species likely to be affected by the fishery and the environment at large.
Cold-water Coral and Sponge Conservation
The Government of Canada is committed to protecting 5% of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2017 and 10% by 2020. The 2020 target is both a domestic target (Canada’s Biodiversity Target 1) and an international target as reflected in the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Target 11 and the United Nations General Assembly’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development under Goal 14. The 2017 and 2020 targets are collectively referred to as Canada’s marine conservation targets. More information on the background and drivers for Canada’s marine conservation targets is available at this website.
The DFO is establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OEABCM) in consultation with industry, non-governmental organizations, and other interested parties that help meet these targets. An overview of these tools, including a description of the role of fisheries management measures that qualify as OEABCM, is available at this website.
Specific measures for the conservation and protection of cold water corals and sponges that affect the snow crab fishery qualify as OEABCM and therefore contribute to Canada’s marine conservation targets. More information on these management measures and their conservation objectives is provided in section 7 (Management Measures) of this IFMP.
4.3. Fishery governance
Over the years, and particularly in recent years, the nature and number of participants in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence snow crab fishery have evolved and changed. The Government of Canada is committed to achieving reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples through a renewed nation-to-nation, government-to-government and Inuit-Crown relationship based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership as the foundation for transformative change. Aboriginal peoples have a special constitutional relationship with the Crown. This relationship, including Aboriginal and treaty rights, is recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Section 35 contains a wide range of rights and it promises that Aboriginal nations will become partners in Confederation on the basis of a just and equitable reconciliation between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown. The Government recognizes that Aboriginal perspectives and rights must be integrated into all aspects of this relationship. These changes should be reflected in the governance structure that guides discussions and recommendations in fisheries management.
Moreover, pressures and demands from stakeholders who have not traditionally been involved in the fishery, such as environmental non-governmental organizations, together with the industry’s efforts to obtain MSC sustainable fishery certification, have created new needs for co-operation within the industry. In this context, it is essential to update the governance and administrative processes for the northern Gulf snow crab fishery.
Variations in the biomass of the various fisheries resources (Greenland halibut, shrimp, snow crab and other species) in the Gulf sometimes result in spatio-temporal changes in the fleets’ fishing patterns. This may lead to conflicts over the use of fishing grounds. Conflicts of this type between shrimpers and crab and lobster fishers and Greenland halibut fishers are on the rise. It is therefore necessary to put tools in place to promote the harmonious use of fishing grounds.
4.4. Economic prosperity of the fishery
The snow crab fishery generates important economic benefits for communities in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence regions where the fishery is conducted. The snow crab fishery is strongly affected by market uncertainties since exports are the main source of income. In a context where the Canadian snow crab landings are mainly exported to the United States, the fishery remains highly dependent on this market. The disadvantages of this dependence were felt during the 2018 season, when measures related to right whales had to be implemented in the Gulf of St. Lawrence snow crab fishery to protect this endangered species and to maintain access to the American market. Diversification of foreign markets would reduce the fishery’s dependence on a single market. As mentioned in Section 3, eco-responsible certification provides a competitive advantage in international markets and could help northern Gulf snow crab gain access to other markets.
There are also significant economic benefits for First Nations who are licenced to fish snow crab. The Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licences Regulations (ACFLR) state that the Aboriginal organization must designate the individuals who may fish their quotas, without specifying that the individual must be Aboriginal or a member of the community. The active participation of First Nations in the snow crab fishery through capacity building presents a challenge for communities.
The granting of licences is governed by the Commercial Fisheries Licensing Policy for Eastern Canada. The administrative guidelines for ITQ programs explain in greater detail how IQ transfers in Quebec are managed. These guidelines present a challenge for the areas, the next generation and First Nations.
Data collection related to catches, landings, locations, impacts on ecosystems and compliance is essential for the management of the snow crab fishery. Monitoring requirements for the snow crab fishery must be identified to ensure that reliable, timely and accessible data are available to ensure effective management of the fishery.
High-grading is illegal in the snow crab fishery. This practice consists of releasing legal-sized snow crabs back into the water during fishing activities. Releasing small, dirty or damaged commercial snow crabs allows fishers to improve the quality of their landings and obtain a better price. Only adolescent and white crabs may be released.
The objectives defined in this section are intended to address the management issues identified in the previous section and have been developed with industry.
5.1. Sustainable exploitation of snow crab
The implementation of a precautionary approach in the snow crab fishery entails several elements, including indicators, different reference points and decision rules. The identification of these elements should support the development of a precautionary approach. In addition, the post-season survey permits the collection of data independent of the snow crab fishery in order to estimate snow crab availability in the coming years. The post-season survey conducted in each area annually provides scientists with adequate information to produce scientific advice and thus facilitate decision making related to harvest levels.
Also, handling of soft-shell crabs, which are vulnerable to injury and predation, presents a challenge with respect to recruitment. A soft-shell crab monitoring protocol is essential in order to implement management measures that can minimize the risk of reducing snow crab recruitment. Local knowledge is important for the analysis of fishery data by scientists. Better communication of this information through existing communication networks would permit improved analysis of fishery data and thus support informed decision making.
5.1.1. Develop a precautionary approach in collaboration with the industry in the snow crab fishery in the coastal areas of the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence for implementation in 2020
5.1.2. Conduct the post-season industry survey in each area each year²
² This objective goes beyond DFO’s mandate and limits, and is therefore primarily the responsibility of the industry.
5.1.3. Protect the recruitment of snow crab in the fishery by maintaining the soft-shell monitoring protocol.
5.1.4. Collect information from local knowledge via established communication network and take this knowledge into account in scientific processes.
5.2. Habitat and ecosystem
The first set of habitat and ecosystem objectives focuses on the impact of the ecosystem on snow crab and aims to address this issue. Environmental conditions are changing and can therefore affect snow crab. Research on changes in ecosystems would make it possible to assess the potential impacts of these changes on snow crab and its habitat. In addition, a change in various biological components could affect the abundance of the resource. For example, variations in the abundance of species that compete with or prey on snow crab, as well as the presence of aquatic invasive species, can affect snow crab stocks. Monitoring of the biological components of the ecosystem, improving knowledge of predator species and monitoring aquatic invasive species (AIS) are therefore essential in order to minimize potential impacts on the species.
At the same time, potential disturbance from other human activities, such as different fishing methods, shipping and oil and gas development, can pose a risk to snow crab and its habitat. Contributing to data collection for research projects on interactions with other fishing activities can help ensure that snow crab and its habitat are included into these projects.
5.2.1. Conduct research projects and develop our knowledge on the impacts of ecosystem changes (biotic and abiotic) on snow crab and its habitat in partnership with fishing stakeholders.
5.2.2. Contribute to the detection of aquatic invasive species by reporting them during fishing and scientific activities.
5.2.3. Conduct research projects on the interactions of other fishing activities with snow crab.
5.2.4. Provide scientific and management information for studies on other human activities or environmental incidents.
5.2.5. Provide scientific and management information specific to snow crab on the ecological monitoring of marine protected areas.
The second set of objectives aims to address issues related to the impact of the snow crab fishery on the habitat and ecosystem. The snow crab fishery may have interactions with certain species listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), such as the North Atlantic right whale. A recovery plan is in place which includes objectives related to the commercial fishery. Maintaining and adjusting conservation measures is necessary to minimize the risks of affecting species with a conservation status and thus support species recovery.
In addition, the snow crab fishery can contribute to altering benthic substrates. Marine protected areas and “other measures” are implemented to preserve species and their habitats. The restrictions imposed by these different measures support preservation efforts for various ecosystems. It is essential for snow crab fishers to comply with measures related to marine protected areas and “other measures,” which include the prohibition on fishing with bottom-contact gear in coral and sponge conservation sites. The entanglement of marine mammals and ghost fishing due to the loss or abandonment of traps can also have an impact on the ecosystem. The lack of information on these impacts makes it difficult to implement appropriate measures to reduce the snow crab fishery’s effects on the ecosystem. Monitoring of lost fishing gear makes it possible to collect information and thus assess the significance of this issue.
5.2.6. Contribute to species at risk recovery strategies by maintaining, and adjusting as necessary, conservation measures to reduce the impacts of the snow crab fishery on species at risk.
5.2.7. Monitor lost or left at sea snow crab traps to assess the importance of their situation.
5.2.8. Maintain, and adjust if necessary, conservation measures to reduce the impacts of the snow crab fishery in marine and coastal protected areas.
Governance translates into a management structure and mechanisms for shared decision making between DFO and industry in the development of management measures that take into account the economic reality of the sectors. Advisory committees are the main structure used to ensure sound governance of inshore fisheries. Specific committees may be created to address specific issues.
The fishing industry’s participation in the decision-making process is important to ensure sound governance of the fishery. The involvement of First Nations within the fisheries management cycle and exchanges and collaboration between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal fishers are necessary to promote sound governance. In addition, the push to implement multi-annual management plans will change fisheries management methods, which will have to be reviewed. Holding advisory committee meetings in late winter is a logistical challenge for consultations and for finalizing fishing plans for the early spring fishery. The development of streamlined and consistent terms of reference for the areas covered by this IFMP could help address these issues and thus ensure better management of the snow crab fishery in the Estuary and northern Gulf of St. Lawrence. Fishing for different species on the fishing grounds can create conflicts. The harmonious use of fishing grounds through voluntary agreements, among other things, should be encouraged.
5.3.1. Encourage the involvement of First Nations in the various stages of the fisheries management cycle.
5.3.2. Promote exchanges and collaboration between First Nations and non-native fish harvesters.
5.3.3. Develop harmonised and coherent terms of reference between the areas in the consultation processes.
5.3.4. Promote the harmonious use of fishing grounds.
5.4. Economic prosperity of the fishery
The objectives below are intended to address various issues related to the economic prosperity of snow crab fishers. First, the active participation of First Nations in the fishery, for example, through snow crab fishing licences and operations carried out by a predominantly Aboriginal crew, would support the economic prosperity of communities. Eco-certification of the snow crab fishery would promote access to new markets and help maintain existing ones. It is necessary to support industry initiatives relating to eco-certification within the scope of DFO’s mandate. In addition, the snow crab fishery must comply with the regulations of countries that import its products, including the US Marine Mammal Protection Act, which requires the enforcement of conservation measures equivalent to those of their country in commercial fisheries to ensure the protection of marine mammals.
With respect to the issue of access to licences and allocations for the sectors, the next generation and First Nations, replacing administrative guidelines by regional guidelines on the management of ITQ programs would permit more effective implementation which would address this issue.
5.4.1. Promote the active participation of First Nations in the snow crab fishery.
5.4.2. Within DFO’s limits and mandates, support industry initiatives related to eco-responsible fisheries certification, including MSC certification.
5.4.3. Adapt management measures to the requirements for the protection of marine mammals.
5.4.4. Simplify administrative guidelines by implementing a regional directive on the management of ITQ programs in the Quebec Region and reassess the need for regional fleet specificities.
5.4.5. Take into account the particularities related to First Nations in the policies and regional directive on the management of ITQ programs in the Quebec region.
Reliable, timely and accessible fisheries data are essential for the conservation of the resource, both in terms of target species and bycatches and ecosystem components. Specific objectives for the snow crab fishery in the inshore areas of the Estuary and northern Gulf of St. Lawrence must be established to ensure adequate monitoring and surveillance of the fishery.
Compliance in the snow crab fishery is ensured through an adapted monitoring and surveillance plan that allows priorities to be adjusted based on the nature of the violations reported in the fishery. The focus of fishery officers’ efforts to ensure compliance in the snow crab fishery is highly dependent on the priorities that are set each year; these can be modified during the season. In addition, the issue of high-grading of snow crab can be addressed through continued monitoring by fishery officers and at-sea observers. Finally, educating fishers about the importance of complying with the regulations is an important part of the compliance program since it promotes compliance from the start of the season.
5.5.1. Establish compliance monitoring objectives in accordance with fisheries monitoring requirements.
5.5.2. Adapt, and adjust as necessary, the monitoring and compliance monitoring plan based on conservation objectives and infraction reports.
5.5.3. Ensure the compliance of the measures put in place to protect the right whale.
5.5.4. Maintain monitoring of the snow crab high-grading by at-sea observers and fishery officers.
5.5.5. Raise awareness among fish harvesters of the importance of complying with regulations aimed at conserving the resource.
6. Access and allocation
For conservation reasons or for any other valid reason, the Minister may modify the access, allocations and sharing arrangements outlined in the existing IFMP in accordance with the powers conferred on him pursuant to the Fisheries Act.
The principles intended to guide the management of Canada’s Atlantic fisheries, including priority access to fisheries resources, are outlined in the Policy Framework for the Management of Fisheries on Canada’s Atlantic Coast, which can be obtained from a DFO office or online.
Access to the snow crab fishery is limited and allocated through licences issued under section 7 of the Fisheries Act and section 4 of the Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licences Regulations. Policies governing the issuance of licences, including re-issuance, licence splits, vessel replacement, and fisher and vessel registration, as well as the general guidelines, are outlined in the Commercial Fisheries Licensing Policy for Eastern Canada, which can be obtained from a DFO licensing centre or online here.
More information about other fisheries policies and frameworks can be found on DFO’s national website.
6.1. Quotas and allocations
Management of this fishery is based on the use of a total allowable catch (TAC) which represents the quantity of snow crab that can be caught during a fishing season. The TAC is established on the basis of changes in fishing statistics, such as yield, average size of snow crab landed, and the abundance of soft-shell crab caught at sea. It is also based on the studies and research surveys conducted by the Science Branch, some of which are carried out jointly with the industry. The resource is shared between traditional (Group A) and non-traditional (Groups B and C) fishers, who receive a percentage of the TAC for specific fishing areas. Temporary snow crab allocations have been granted to promote the versatility of non-traditional fishers by ensuring a certain level of economic viability.
Table 2 outlines information about ITQs and IQs for the 2018 season. Areas 12C, 15, 16 and 17 have more than one group due to temporary allocations that have become permanent. In addition, Area 13 is divided among two provinces, namely Quebec and Newfoundland-and-Labrador. Quebec fishers hold 87.755% of the TAC, whereas Newfoundland-and-Labrador fishers hold 12.245%.
|Management area||Group||Management regime||Allocation (%)|
|B and C||ITQ||7.3|
7. Management measures
The management measures presented here define the control mechanisms used for the snow crab fishery in inshore areas. These measures are reflected in the Conservation Harvesting Plans (CHPs) which are published before the start of the season. The CHPs for the inshore snow crab fishing areas can be found in the “Notices to Fish Harvesters” section of the DFO Quebec Region’s website at the following address.
Conditions associated with snow crab fishing licences are issued to fishers before each fishing season. These Conditions of licence, issued under section 22 of the Fishery (General) Regulations, and for First Nations, under section 4 of the Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licences Regulations, may vary from year to year based on the management decisions set out in the Notices to Fish Harvesters. The Conditions of licence implement the management measures that have been established.
7.1. Total Allowable Catch (TAC)
A peer review, currently conducted annually, brings together DFO, provincial representatives, the fishing industry and First Nations, and provides scientific advice on the status of snow crab stocks in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence. Fisheries Management and the Minister consider this advice when setting TACs. The Science Advisory Report is published in the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) section of the DFO website, at the following address. The TAC is reflected in the Conservation Harvesting Plan (CHP), which is published in the Notices to Fish Harvesters section of the DFO Quebec Region’s website at the following address.
7.2. Fishing seasons/areas
The retreat of the ice allows snow crab fishers to start fishing at a time when it is safe to do so. Since the territory covered by the inshore areas collectively occupies a large part of the Estuary and northern Gulf of St. Lawrence, the start of the season differs from area to area. Opening dates are determined annually in consultation with industry and, if necessary, the Canadian Coast Guard, Environment and Climate Change Canada and Transport Canada. These dates are announced through a Notice to Fish Harvesters. The opening and closing dates may be changed through opening or closure orders for various reasons, for example if catches contain too many soft-shell crab. In Areas 12C (Group A), 15 (Group A) and 16A, fishers are offered the opportunity to choose between two fishing seasons of equal length. Table 3 presents the snow crab fishing periods in inshore areas in 2018.
|Fishing areas and groups||March||April||May||June||July||August|
|12C - Group A||11 or 18||17 or 24|
|12C - Group B||18||24|
|13 - Quebec||2 or 15||7 ou 20|
|13 - Newfoudland||2||7|
|14||1 or 10||6 or 15|
|15 - Group A||11 or 18||17 or 24|
|15 - Group B||18||24|
|16A||11 or 18||17 or 24|
7.3. Control and monitoring of removals
7.3.1. Restrictions on traps and associated gear
The number of traps per boat and their dimensions are part of the restrictions implemented for snow crab fishing. As mentioned in section 54(1) of the Atlantic Fishery Regulations, 1985 (AFR 1985), the mesh size of traps must be greater than 65 mm and the volume of traps may not exceed 2.1 m3. The number of authorized traps per area is outlined in the CHPs and is summarized in Appendix 1. In addition, all traps are tagged and buoys are identified.
7.3.2. At-sea monitoring
A satellite-based vessel monitoring system (VMS) is installed on each snow crab fishing vessel operating in inshore areas. Various types of information such as position, vessel name and speed are sent to DFO at 15-minute intervals. At-sea observers from a DFO-accredited company are deployed at the industry’s expense to enforce the law, support scientific programs, and monitor catches of white crabs and adolescents. The percentage of at-sea observer coverage varies between 2.5% and 15%. The percentage of coverage required for each area is summarized in Appendix 1.
7.3.3. Catch monitoring
Fishers possess a combined forms booklet in which the logbook portion must be completed for each fishing trip and must include fishing effort and catch data. This information must be sent to DFO after each fishing trip. In addition, a dockside monitoring program is in place for the fishery. For each area, dockside observer coverage (provided by a DFO-accredited company) must be 100%.
As part of a fisheries modernization program, electronic logbooks are being phased in for various fisheries. In the case of snow crab, use of these logbooks is being introduced in Areas 16, 17, 12A and 12B in 2019 on a voluntary basis and may end up being mandatory. The other inshore areas will follow suit in the coming years.
7.3.4. Catch control
The AFR 1985 prohibits the possession of female crabs and snow crabs with a carapace width of less than 95 mm. In addition to these individuals, fishers may release regulatory-sized male crabs with small claws (adolescent crabs) and soft-shell crabs. Protocols have been implemented to protect these vulnerable crabs from excessive handling. One measure designed to protect the resource is to issue an order closing the area when the proportion of soft-shell crabs in catches reaches 20%. All species other than snow crab are returned to the water.
7.3.5. Quota reconciliation
The principle of quota reconciliation is intended to ensure that a quota overrun in any given year is taken into account for the following season. A quantity equal to the overrun is subtracted from the licence holder’s allocation before the start of the next fishing season. Since 2011, commercial quota fisheries administered by DFO have been subject to quota reconciliation, including the inshore snow crab fishery.
7.4. Requirements of the Species at Risk Act (SARA)
Pursuant to the Species at Risk Act (SARA), no person shall kill, harm, harass, capture, take, possess, collect, buy sell or trade an individual or any part or derivate of a wildlife species designated as extirpated, endangered or threatened. The species at risk in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence likely to be captured during snow crab fishery are: Spotted Wolffish, Northern Wolffish and Leatherback Turtle. Other species could be added during the year.
However, under section 83(4) of SARA, the recovery plans for species at risk listed above allow fishers to engage in commercial fishing activities subject to conditions. All bycatch of these species by snow crab harvesters must be immediately returned to the water and, if the fish is still alive, in a manner that causes it the least harm. Information related to species at risk catches must be reported in the “Species at risk” section of the logbook. Furthermore, information regarding interactions with all species at risk, including the species listed above as well as the North Atlantic Right Whale, the Striped Bass (St. Lawrence Estuary population), the Blue Whale (Atlantic population), the Beluga Whale (St. Lawrence Estuary population) and the Great White Shark must be recorded in the Species at Risk section of the logbook.Habitat and Biodiversity Protection Measures
7.5. Habitat and biodiversity protection measures
7.5.1. Habitat protection measures
In 2017, fishery closures were implemented as part of the Coral and Sponge Conservation Strategy for Eastern Canada. The purpose of this strategy is to protect cold water coral and sponge species, their communities and habitats in the Atlantic region, including the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence. A total of 11 significant areas of coral and sponge concentration were selected for protection. The use of bottom-contacting fishing gear, including traps used by snow crab harvesters, is prohibited as of December 15, 2017 in the coral and sponge conservation areas, some of which are found in the snow crab fishing areas (12B, 12C, 14, 15 and 16) (Figure 8). These conservation areas also qualify as OEABCM and therefore contribute to national marine conservation targets. More details on each of these areas are available on the DFO website.
Snow crab fishing is not permitted in the Saguenay River, which is located within Snow Crab Fishing Area 17.
7.5.2. Biodiversity protection measures
Given the presence of North Atlantic right whales in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence, several management measures have been implemented to minimize the risks of entanglement for these whales. These measures are detailed in the snow crab CHPs for each area and include reducing the quantity of rope floating on the water surface, marking fishing gear, providing additional identification of buoys, and reporting lost fishing gear.
To limit the impacts of ghost fishing by lost traps, a portion of each trap’s netting must be made of a biodegradable material. In addition, reporting interactions with marine mammals using a specific form has been required since 2018. This measure resulted from the implementation of a regulation passed under the US Marine Mammals Protection Act (MMPA).
A closure protocol is an additional protection measure for right whales that was put in place in 2018. This measure will be adjusted to ensure effective protection of these whales. Up-to-date information about closure protocols can be found in the Notices to Fish Harvesters section of the DFO Quebec Region’s website.
8. Shared stewardship arrangements
Historically, Fisheries and Oceans Canada helped industry stakeholders undertake mutually beneficial collaborative projects, including the post-season snow crab survey, by offsetting the costs using funds generated through allocations of fish. The post-season survey, which is conducted by industry, is an important part of the stock assessment process. For more information on the scientific objectives, see section 2.4 on stock assessments. Snow crab allocations were therefore used to provide funding for this survey. However, in 2006, it was determined that under the Fisheries Act, the Minister no longer had this authority. In 2007, the Larocque Relief Funding program made it possible to continue providing this support to fund critical science and management activities (e.g. to gather scientific information used in the assessment of key commercial fish and invertebrate stocks to ensure conservation and economic sustainability). In 2012, following the addition of a section to the Fisheries Act allowing the use of fish allocations for funding, DFO stopped funding the surveys and the costs were passed along to industry beginning in the 2013 season. Although these additional costs were initially criticized, there was a consensus within the industry, including First Nations, on the relevance and importance of maintaining the historical data set through the surveys. Industry assumes the costs of the post-season surveys through various methods and strategies.
The stock assessments and post-season surveys allow Sciences to make recommendations, particularly regarding quotas for each fishing area. These recommendations are presented and discussed during an advisory committee meeting. The advisory committees are composed of numerous representatives from fishers’ associations and groups, First Nations, processors, the provincial governments of Quebec and Newfoundland-and-Labrador for Area 13, and resource managers. A DFO economist and a biologist act as a resource person for the committees. The committees advise the area directors on issues affecting snow crab, including the allocation of the resource among fishers, harvesting methods, and scientific research and regulatory enforcement needs. Only the Area 13 Snow Crab Advisory Committee is interregional since fishers from Newfoundland-and-Labrador both have access to this area. However, the Quebec Region’s Resource Management, Aquaculture and Aboriginal Affairs Branch is responsible for coordinating consultation and management for Area 13. The recommendations formulated by the advisory committees in each area are provided through the approval process set out in section 1.6 on governance.
A committee composed of industry and DFO representatives in each area establishes the starting dates for fishing activities. When necessary, representatives from Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada participate in the committees. Air temperature, ice and wind conditions are elements that affect the fishing season opening dates.
9. Compliance plan
9.1. Conservation and Protection (C&P) program description
The Conservation and Protection (C&P) Program promotes and ensures compliance with the acts, regulations and management measures for the conservation and sustainable exploitation of Canada’s aquatic resources and protection of species at risk, fish habitat, oceans and marine protected areas (ex: corals and sponges).
Implementing the Program follows a balanced approach of management and enforcement, including:
- Promoting compliance with laws and regulations through education and shared stewardship,
- Inspection, monitoring and surveillance activities;
- Management of major case/special investigation in relation to complex compliance issues; and
- Compliance and enforcement Program capacity.
9.2. Delivery of the regional compliance program
The C&P program is responsible, in whole or in part, for compliance and enforcement activities for all regional fisheries including, but not limited to, habitat, the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program (CSSP), marine protected area activities to ensure seabed protection, marine mammal protection, species at risk protection and all other activities related to the protection of aquatic species.
Therefore, the amount of patrolling time allocated to a particular fishery is based largely on risk assessment for the resource and setting priorities. The C & P Branch surveillance efforts may vary from one year to another for a given fishery based on set priorities.
C & P monitoring activities of the crab fleet in the Estuary Gulf of St. Lawrence mainly focus on the catch, gear compliance, compliance with conditions of license and landings.
9.2.1. Catch and conditions of licence compliance
The At-Sea Observer program is essential for monitoring catch activities of snow crab harvesters. It is a source of data that provides the composition of the catch at sea, the condition and quality of the catch, and information that forms the basis for monitoring by-catch. The requirement to make a hail-out call is found in fishers’ conditions of licence and allows for the effective deployment of at-sea observers on board vessels.
Through its aerial surveillance program, C&P ensures the compliance of fishing activities. Snow crab fishing vessels are identified and positioned during surveillance flights. The validity of fishing licences and conditions of licence, along with fishing area compliance, are verified. The functioning of the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) is also verified. Hail-outs are analyzed and a video recording is done of each vessel observed during aerial patrols.
C&P also ensures the compliance of fishing activities through its mid-shore patrol vessel program. Fishery officers on patrol boats may board any fishing vessel when they deem this appropriate. During boarding, they verify fishing gear compliance, logbook maintenance, catch size, bycatches, VMS functioning, and any other information relevant to fishing activities.
Fishery officers ensure the compliance of snow crab fishers by conducting landing checks, ensuring the compliance of hail-outs, validating the information in fishers’ logbooks, and performing any other relevant compliance checks related to the targeted fishery.
C&P actively participates in the preparation and meetings of the Snow Crab Advisory Committee for the various fishing areas, including those covered by this IFMP. C&P is regularly consulted by resource managers on preparation and implementation of management measures. Discussions or occasional working meetings are also held between DFO and fleet representatives. C&P also participates in informal interactions with all parties involved in the fishery on the wharf, during patrols or in the community to promote conservation.
9.4. Compliance performance
Monitoring efforts are generally reported in terms of hours of work spent in the various snow crab fishing areas, the number of interventions carried out at sea, the number of boardings carried out to check fishing activities, and the number of violations reported in relation to all interventions carried out during the season.
C&P also implements a compliance monitoring program for the various fishing fleets. Elements related to all types of regulatory violations are calculated and an index of fleet compliance is developed.
9.5. Current Compliance priorities
9.5.1. Compliance with fishing areas
Snow crab fishers have access to vast fishing areas. With the implementation of the new North Atlantic right whale protection measures, some of these areas may be affected by spontaneous and temporary closures intended to protect the species by reducing the risk of entanglement with fishing gear. C&P ensures that the entire fleet complies with the preventive closures imposed on fishing areas. Increased surveillance of these areas is a priority and regular patrols are carried out.
Keeping the logbook up to date and recording accurate data as stipulated in conditions of licence are necessary for orderly management of the fishery. Logbooks are an important source of information used, among other things, for assessing snow crab stocks and for improving knowledge on species at risk.
9.6. Compliance issues
Ensuring compliance with the acts and regulations is a challenge in all fisheries. Compliance activities carried out by fishery officers are adapted to the number and nature of violations committed in the snow crab fishery. Awareness activities are carried out to promote compliance with the management measures in place. Compliance issues specific to the snow crab fishery are identified in section 4.5 of this IFMP.
9.7. Compliance strategy
Dockside and at-sea monitoring are conducted regularly to ensure compliance in the fishery. Fishery officers regularly patrol the docks before, during and after the fishing season. Meetings are held with fishers to review important aspects of the regulations and conditions of licence, and to answer questions regarding the interpretation of the regulations. Fishing gear is checked to ensure compliance. Poaching cases are prioritized at all times.
10. Performance review
This section of the IFMP defines the indicators that will enable assessment of progress towards achieving the objectives identified in Section 5. A list of qualitative and quantitative indicators is proposed. Progress accomplished towards achieving the objectives in relation to the performance indicators will be updated every year.
Theme 1: Sustainable exploitation of snow crab
Global objective: Ensure sustainability of the snow crab fishery
|Specific objectives||Performance indicators|
|Develop a precautionary approach in collaboration with the industry in the snow crab fishery in the coastal areas of the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence for implementation in 2020.||
Working group in place in summer 2019;
|Conduct the post-season industry survey in each area each year.||Conducting a post-season in each area every year.|
|Protect the recruitment of snow crab in the fishery by maintaining the soft-shell monitoring protocol.||Application of the soft-shell crab protocol.|
|Collect information from local knowledge via established communication network and take this knowledge into account in scientific processes.||Number of consultative processes involving First Nations and non-native fish harvesters.|
Theme 2: Habitat and ecosystem
Global objective: Assess the impacts of changes in the habitat and ecosystem of snow crab
|Specific objectives||Performance indicators|
|Conduct research projects and develop our knowledge on the impacts of ecosystem changes (biotic and abiotic) on snow crab and its habitat in partnership with fishing stakeholders.||Contribution to research projects and knowledge on biotic and abiotic ecosystem changes.|
|Contribute to the detection of aquatic invasive species by reporting them during fishing and scientific activities.||Number of invasive species voluntarily reported in logbooks or research documents.|
|Conduct research projects on the interactions of other fishing activities with snow crab.||Number of solicitations/participation in research projects to assess the interaction of other fishing activities with snow crab.|
|Provide scientific and management information for studies on other human activities or environmental incidents.||Number of solicitations/participation in research projects conducted on the interaction of other human activities or environmental incidents.|
|Provide scientific and management information specific to snow crab on the ecological monitoring of marine protected areas.||Number of solicitations/participation in research projects conducted on the impact of the establishment of protection areas on snow crab.|
Global objective: Minimize the impacts of fishing on habitat and the ecosystem
|Specific objectives||Performance indicators|
|Contribute to species at risk recovery strategies by maintaining, and adjusting as necessary, conservation measures to reduce the impacts of the snow crab fishery on species at risk.||
Recovery Plan Right Whale :
|Monitor lost or left at sea snow crab traps to assess the importance of their situation.||Documentation and reduction of the number of fishing gear lost or left at sea.|
|Maintain, and adjust if necessary, conservation measures to reduce the impacts of the snow crab fishery in marine and coastal protected areas.||
Compliance with the prohibition of fishing in the closure areas for the protection of the corals and sponges;
Theme 3: Fishery governance
Global objective: Ensure effective fisheries governance
|Specific objectives||Performance indicators|
|Encourage the involvement of First Nations in the various stages of the fisheries management cycle.||Level of First Nations participation in the various stages of the fisheries management cycle.|
|Promote exchanges and collaboration between First Nations and non-native fish harvesters.||Level of participation of First Nations and non-native fishers in consultation processes.|
|Develop harmonised and coherent terms of reference between the areas in the consultation processes.||Development with industry of harmonised and consistent terms of reference between areas in the established consultation processes.|
|Promote the harmonious use of fishing grounds.||Reduction of fishing ground use conflicts through the implementation of voluntary measures and communication mechanisms between fleets.|
Theme 4: Economic prosperity of the fishery
Global objective: Promote the economic prosperity of the non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal snow crab fishery
|Specific objectives||Performance indicators|
|Promote the active participation of First Nations in the snow crab fishery.||Percentage of licences operated by First Nations people (or percentage of Aboriginal crew members).|
|Within DFO’s limits and mandates, support industry initiatives related to eco-responsible fisheries certification.||Progress of the work necessary to obtain the certification.|
|Adapt management measures to the requirements for the protection of marine mammals.||Number of management measures in place that meet the requirements for the protection of marine mammals|
|Simplify administrative guidelines by implementing a regional directive on the management of ITQ programs in the Quebec Region and reassess the need for regional fleet specificities.||
Implementation of the regional directive by March 2019;
|Take into account the particularities related to First Nations in the policies and regional directive on the management of ITQ programs in the Quebec region.||Meet with First Nations to discuss the integration of their specificities into the regional directive.|
Theme 5: Compliance
Global objective: Ensure compliance of the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence snow crab fishery
|Specific objectives||Performance indicators|
|Establish compliance monitoring objectives in accordance with fisheries monitoring requirements.||Number of monitoring objectives established.|
|Adapt, and adjust as necessary, the monitoring and compliance monitoring plan based on conservation objectives and infraction reports.||
|Ensure the compliance of the measures put in place to protect the right whale.||No warnings or infractions related to the conservation measures in place for the protection of right whales.|
|Maintain monitoring of the snow crab high-grading by at-sea observers and fishery officers.||Proportion of infractions related to high-grading on the number of fishing trips covered by an at-sea observer and on the monitoring effort of fishery officers.|
|Raise awareness among fish harvesters of the importance of complying with regulations aimed at conserving the resource.||Number of awareness-raising interventions.|
Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK): Knowledge that is held by, and unique to Aboriginal peoples. It is a living body of knowledge that is cumulative and dynamic and adapted over time to reflect changes in the social, economic, environmental, spiritual and political spheres of the Aboriginal knowledge holders. It often includes knowledge about the land and its resources, spiritual beliefs, language, mythology, culture, laws, customs and medicines.
Abundance: Number of individuals in a stock or a population.
Adolescent crab: Male crab with a shell length of 40 mm or more that has not yet shed its terminal molt, recognizable by its small claws.
Age Composition: Proportion of individuals of different ages in a stock or in the catches.
Biomass: total weight of all individuals in a stock or a population.
By-catch: The unintentional catch of one species when the target is another.
Catch per Unit Effort (CPUE): The amount of snow crab caught for a given fishing effort.
Communal Commercial Licence: Licence issued to Aboriginal organizations pursuant to the Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licences Regulations for participation in the general commercial fishery.
Conservation Harvesting Plan (CHP): Fishing plans that stipulate management measures and certain terms and conditions for regulating fishing activities.
Crab Fishing Area (CFA): A management zone established in regulation for the purposes of supporting the management of the snow crab fishery within a given geographic area.
Demersal: Organisms that live and are dependent on the sea floor.
Dockside Monitoring Program (DMP): A monitoring program that is conducted by a company that has been designated by the Department, which verifies the species composition and landed weight of all fish landed from a commercial fishing vessel.
Ecosystem-Based Management: Taking into account of species interactions and the interdependencies between species and their habitats when making resource management decisions.
Exploitation rate: Percentage of the available commercial biomass which is harvested.
Fish:As described in the Fisheries Act, fish includes:
- parts of fish,
- shellfish, crustaceans, marine animals and any parts of shellfish, crustaceans or marine animals, and
- the eggs, sperm, spawn, larvae, spat and juvenile stages of fish, shellfish, crustaceans and marine animals.
Fishing Effort: Quantity of effort using a given fishing gear over a given period of time.
Fishing Mortality: Death caused by fishing, often symbolized by the Mathematical symbol F.
Food, Social and Ceremonial (FSC): A fishery conducted by Aboriginal groups for food, social and ceremonial purposes.
Ghost Fishing: The situation where fishing gear lost or left at sea continues to catch and kill marine species.
Groundfish: Species of fish living near the bottom such as cod, haddock, halibut and flatfish.
Individual Quota (IQ): The further division of fleet quotas to individual enterprises or vessels. Where such allocations are transferrable under established guidelines, they are referred to as Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs).
Landings: Quantity of a species caught and landed.
Management measure: Measure put in place to manage the fishery in order to ensure the conservation of the resource.
Natural Mortality: Mortality due to natural causes, symbolized by the mathematical symbol M.
Observer Coverage: When a licence holder is required to carry an officially recognized observer onboard their vessel for a specific period of time to verify the amount of fish caught, the area in which it was caught and the method by which it was caught.
Pelagic: A pelagic species, such as herring, lives in midwater or close to the surface.
Population: Group of individuals of the same species, forming a breeding unit, and sharing a habitat.
Precautionary Approach: Set of agreed cost-effective measures and actions, including future courses of action, which ensures prudent foresight, reduces or avoids risk to the resource, the environment, and the people, to the extent possible, taking explicitly into account existing uncertainties and the potential consequences of being wrong.
Quota: Portion of the total allowable catch that a unit such as vessel class, country, etc. is permitted to take from a stock in a given period of time.
Recruitment: Amount of individuals becoming part of the exploitable stock e.g. that can be caught in a fishery.
Research Survey: Survey at sea, on a research vessel, allowing scientists to obtain information on the abundance and distribution of various species and/or collect oceanographic data. Ex: bottom trawl survey, plankton survey, hydroacoustic survey, etc.
Shared Stewardship: An approach to fisheries management whereby participants are effectively involved in fisheries management decision-making processes at appropriate levels, contribute specialized knowledge and experience, and share in accountability for outcomes.
Soft-shell crab (white crab): Male crab, mature or adolescent, with a shell of condition 1 and 2 whose hardness of the claw is less than 68 mm on the durometer.
Species at Risk Act (SARA): The Act is a federal government commitment to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct and secure the necessary actions for their recovery. It provides the legal protection of wildlife species and the conservation of their biological diversity.
Stock: Describes a population of individuals of one species found in a particular area, and is used as a unit for fisheries management. Ex: NAFO area 4S herring.
Stock Assessment: Scientific evaluation of the status of a species belonging to a same stock within a particular area in a given time period.
Tonne: Metric tonne, which is 1000kg or 2204.6lbs.
Total Allowable Catch (TAC): The amount of catch that may be taken from a stock.
Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK): A cumulative body of knowledge and beliefs, handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environment.
Validation: The verification, by an observer, of the weight of fish landed.
DFO 1985a. Assessment of snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) stocks in the estuary and northern Gulf of St. Lawrence. CAFSAC. Research document 85/13.
DFO 1985b. Advice on the management of snow crab fisheries in the estuary and north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. CAFSAC. Advisory Document 85/21.
DFO 1986a. Regard sur l’état des stocks de crabe des neiges, Chionoecetes opilio, de l’Estuaire et de la Cote-Nord du Golfe du Saint-Laurent en 1983 (French only). CAFSAC. Research document 86/115.
DFO 1986b. Snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) stock assessment in the estuary and north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1985. CAFSAC. Research document 86/16.
DFO 1987. Snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) in the estuary and north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence : 1986 stock assessment. CAFSAC. Research document 87/70.
DFO 1990. The Atlantic Snow Crab. Underwater World: 6. Ottawa: Communications Directorate, Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans. SM 81/006E. 8 pages.
DFO 1995. Le crabe des neiges de l’estuaire et du nord du golfe du Saint-Laurent : État des populations en 1994 (French only). DFO Atlantic Fisheries. Research Document 95/96.
DFO 1996. Snow crab of the estuary and northern Gulf of St. Lawrence. DFO, Atlantic Fisheries. Stock Status Report 96/6.
DFO 1999. Le crabe des neiges de l’estuaire et du nord du golfe du Saint-Laurent : État des populations de 1995 à 1998 (French only). CAFSAC. Research document 99/19.
DFO 2002. Snow Crab of the Estuary and Northern Gulf of St Lawrence (Areas 13 to 17). Snow Crab of the Estuary and Northern Gulf of St Lawrence (Areas 13 to 17).
DFO 2003a. Snow Crab of the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence (Areas 13 to 17 and 12A, 12B and 12C) in 2002. DFO – Science, Stock Status Report 2003/011.
DFO 2003b. Status of snow crab populations in the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Northern Gul of St. Lawrence from 1999 to 2001. CSAS of DFO, Research Document 2003/048.
DFO, 2004. Snow Crab of the Estuary and Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence (areas 13 to 17 and 12A, 12B and 12C) in 2003.
DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Stock Status Rep. 2004/024.
DFO, 2005. Snow Crab of the Estuary and Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence (Areas 13 to 17 and 12A, 12B and 12C) in 2004.
DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Stock Status Rep. 2005/027.
DFO. 2017. Assessment of the Estuary and Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence (Areas 13 to 17, 12A, 12B, 12C and 16A) Snow Crab Stocks in 2016. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Sci. Advis. Rep. 2017/020.
Appendix 1: Number of authorized traps (standard and Japanese) and at-sea observer coverage by fishing area and by group in 2018.
|Group||Number of straps||At-sea observer coverage|
From opening to end of April: 4.5%
From opening to April 24: 7%
|B and C*||35||70|
* A maximum of 50 standard traps or 100 Japanese traps may be used by licence holders who benefit from temporary transfers totalling more than 8,000 kg.
Appendix 2: Types of snow crab traps
Appendix 3: Snow crab fishing areas between 1983 and 2018
Appendix 4: DFO contacts
|Jérôme Beaulieu||Resource Management and Aquaculture||(418) 648-5891||(418) 648-7981||Jérôme.Beaulieu@dfo-mpo.gc.ca|
|Marc Naud||Fisheries Management, Aquaculture and Aboriginal affairs||(418) 648-7679||(418) 648-7981||Marc.email@example.com|
|Dario Lemelin||Resource Management and Aquaculture||(418) 648-3236||(418) 648-7981||Dario.firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Érick St-Laurent||Gaspé-Lower St. Lawrence Area||(418) 368-6818||(418) 368-4349||Érick.St-Laurent@dfo-mpo.gc.ca|
|Andrew Rowsell||North shore area||(418) 962-6315||(418) 962-1044||Andrew.Rowsell@dfo-mpo.gc.ca|
|Sarah Larochelle||Aboriginal Affairs||(418) 648-7870||(418) 648-7981||Sarah.Larochelle@dfo-mpo.gc.ca|
|Yves Richard||Conservation & Protection||(418) 648-5886||(418) 648-7981||Yves.email@example.com|
|Cédric Juillet||Sciences||(418) 775-0832||Cedric.Juillet@dfo-mpo.gc.ca|
|Martial Menard||Strategic Services||(418) 648-5939||(418) 649-8003||Martial.Menard@dfo-mpo.gc.ca|
|Bernard Morin||Statistics||(418) 648-5935||(418) 648-7981||Bernard.Morin@dfo-mpo.gc.ca|
|Claudine Renauld||Communications||(418) 648-7316||(418) 648-7718||Claudine.Renauld@dfo-mpo.gc.ca|
Appendix 5: Safety of fishing vessels at sea
Vessel owners and masters have a duty to ensure the safety of their crew and vessel. Adherence to safety regulations and good practices by owners, masters and crew of fishing vessels will help save lives, protect their vessel against damage and protect the environment. All fishing vessels must be seaworthy and maintained according to the regulations in force by Transport Canada (TC).
In the federal government, responsibility for navigation and regulations and inspections of ship safety is the responsibility of Transport Canada (TC), emergency response and rescue of the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), while Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is responsible for the management of fisheries resources. In Quebec, the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité au travail (CNESST) has a mandate to prevent accidents and diseases work on board fishing vessels. All of these organizations are working together to promote culture of safety at sea and protection of the environment from the fishing community of Quebec.
The Standing Committee on the Safety of Fishing Vessels of Quebec, consisting of all the organizations involved in safety at sea, provides an annual forum for discussion and information for all matters related to the safety of fishing vessels such as design, construction, maintenance, operation and inspection of fishing vessels, as well as training and certification of fishermen. Any other topic of interest for the safety of fishing vessels and the protection of the environment can be presented and discussed. Fishers can also discussed security issues related to the management plan of the species (e.g. Fishery openings) in advisory committees held by DFO.
It is worth remembering that before leaving for a fishing expedition, the owner, master or operator must ensure that the fishing vessel is capable of doing its work safely. The critical factors of a fishing expedition include airworthiness and stability of the ship, possession of required safety equipment in good working board, crew training and knowledge of current and forecast weather.
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