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Fisheries minister commits to lifting processing caps, looking for outside buyers ahead of 2024 crab season

Fisheries Minister Elvis Loveless says the compressed season resulted in quality issues, but didn't specify the nature of the issue. (Ted Dillon/CBC - image credit)
Fisheries Minister Elvis Loveless says the compressed season resulted in quality issues, but didn't specify the nature of the issue. (Ted Dillon/CBC - image credit)
Fisheries Minister Elvis Loveless says the compressed season resulted in quality issues, but didn't specify the nature of the issue.
Fisheries Minister Elvis Loveless says the compressed season resulted in quality issues, but didn't specify the nature of the issue.

Fisheries Minister Elvis Loveless says the province will lift the processing cap and issue an expression of interest for outside buyers for the 2024 crab season. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Fisheries Minister Elvis Loveless says he's willing to meet some of the demands tabled by fish harvesters and their union amid continued protests.

In a letter written to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union on Tuesday — and on the eve of announcing the provincial budget for 2024 — Loveless told union president Greg Pretty the province is committed to raising processing capacity "in the primary processing sector" prior to the start of the 2024 fishery.

However, the extent of the increase will be informed, in part, by the total allowable catch that is yet to be announced by the federal fisheries minister.

Further, Loveless said his department will issue an expression of interest for outside buyers for the 2024 snow crab fishery on Tuesday.

"The expression of interest will include a fish buyer's licence application so that timely issuance of licences can proceed should there be interest," Loveless wrote.

Both of those pieces have been at the top of the priority list for the FFAW and protesting harvesters in recent weeks as they stood on the stairs of Confederation Building and flooded the public galleries in the House of Assembly to get their point across to Loveless and the provincial government.

But harvesters insist their protests aren't just about crab. They want the ability to sell any catch of any species outside of the province.

On Friday, Loveless wrote another letter to Pretty outlining the province's willingness to explore outside buyer options, but he wanted to see a plan in place first to ensure other areas of the industry — specifically fish plant workers — wouldn't feel the impact of the move.

Who will buy?

But the logistics of selling snow crab out of province remain to be seen.

In Nova Scotia, most of the snow crab processing operations are already up and running and a predicted amount of catch is already in place for the companies who have hired their staff.

Kris Vascotto, executive director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance, which represents seafood processing companies and buyers in that province, told CBC News adding another possible 40,000 tonnes of snow crab to those processing lines will have its challenges.

Employee premiums, pricing differences, transportation, collection and live crab waiting to cross to Nova Scotia via a ferry system that is prone to weather delays are all factors that need to be considered, he said.

"All of these pieces really have to be worked into the equation before somebody would decide, 'OK, it makes sense for me to go to Newfoundland and to actually purchase snow crab,'" said Vascotto.

"This is not to say we haven't had in the past vessels come from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia and land and provide product in that stance. But it's a different sort of situation there because the product is live upon landing."

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