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Shrimp industry instability 'nerve wracking', says Port au Choix harvester

Rodrick Cornick’s ship, the Atlantic Explorer.
Rodrick Cornick’s ship, the Atlantic Explorer.

PORT AU CHOIX — When Rodrick Cornick bought into the inshore shrimp fishery three years ago he expected a better future.

Cornick operates the Atlantic Explorer, co-owned with Terrence House, based out of Port aux Choix. They fish for shrimp in area 6 out of St. Anthony.

When Cornick bought a share of the enterprise in 2014, he says his shrimp quota would have been equivalent to 1.1 million pounds. At that time, he had little idea what was to come.

“Here in the gulf area, the shrimp fishery has been on the go for 40 years and has been fairly consistent,” explains Cornick. “And down in area 6, the banks lent me money based on 20 years of steady allocations.”

Then the bottom fell out.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) determined the stock wasn't healthy and cut quotas last year.

“Right out of the blue they (DFO) started sweeping the feet from out under us.”

Last year, the quota was down to 370,000 pounds. For the 2017 season, in the wake of the DFO survey showing the fishable biomass has continued to decline, Cornick expects the quota to be down again.

He says continued cuts in area 6 will likely make his enterprise unsustainable.

According to Cornick, he’s now heavily in debt and these cuts are making it more and more difficult to pay off the loan.

“The only thing that has been saving us the last three years has been the price,” he says.

“Because of that we were able to make ends meet.”

Cornick feels there is no stability in the shrimp industry.

For instance, he questions why a three or five-year management plan isn’t put in place. Instead, the fishermen have to wait every spring for word on quotas, not knowing what to expect.

“We’re here now, we don’t know what to do,” he says. “It’s nerve racking for me anyway.”

Cornick’s plan for 2017 is to just try to make a year’s salary, personally, and, before he pays an instalment on his loan, to ask for financial forgiveness for a year.

“So that hopefully next year it might be better,” he says. “And that’s an awful way to have to go (about it).”

A team effort

Cornick also questions the methodology used by DFO to determine the shrimp biomass.

He says from his own first-hand observations, catch rates seem to be strong in area 6.

“We had good catch rates last year prior to the bad weather and stuff in the fall, and the big boats are down there now having good catch rates,” he says. “Then you here these survey saying there’s no shrimp. It’s crazy.”

He wonders where the DFO scientists are getting their numbers.

“They’re making rash decision on shoddy science,” he charges.

And he believes the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW), as well as the DFO, have been leaving the fishermen out of the decision-making process. In his mind, they deserve more input.

“They (the fishermen) are the best scientists out there,” says Cornick. “Just because you go to MUN for three or four years, or the career academy, and get a little marine environmentalist tag put on your diploma doesn’t mean you have the same feel for an industry as a guy who has been in it for 20-to-40 years.”

He’d like to see surveys done by fishermen in their fleet. And he suggests a solution is for it to be a collaborative process between the DFO scientists and the fishermen.

“Make it a team effort,” he says.

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