On Tuesday, April 16, John Efford Jr. was aboard his 55-foot boat, the Four Jacks, getting ready to begin the Newfoundland and Labrador snow crab season after a hard-won battle over the price. Like all Newfoundland fishermen, Efford is a member of the Fish, Food, and Allied Workers Union (FFAW), which works to negotiate a crab price for the season with the processor's organization, the Association of Seafood Producers. As the de facto leader of the crab harvesters, Efford and the FFAW settled on a $3.00 CAD opening price ($2.17 US) and the right for fishermen to sell their catches off the island. “Free Enterprise,” says Efford. “That’s what we’re asking for.”

The process of setting a price began in December 2023. “The FFAW started negotiating with the processors’ association and a provincial mediator on a price formula,” says Efford. “It’s based on market conditions and all that. But they made no progress.”

John Efford is the son of Newfoundland’s former Natural Resources Minister, the late John Efford. As the unofficial leader of a fishermen’s strike for better prices, Efford held the unionized fishermen together and got what they wanted for price.

On March 4, as the season neared with no price agreement, fishermen descended on the Newfoundland government, seated in the Confederation Building in St. John’s, demanding the right to sell off the island. “I don’t know where that rule came from,” says Efford. “It was originally intended to protect the jobs of the fish plant workers, but it ended up protecting the processors, and they formed a cartel to control the price. We wanted access to the market.” According to Efford, the March 4 protest shut down the building for four days.

“When there’s no agreement on the price, it goes to a panel,” Efford says. “We submit our plan, and the processors submit theirs. The corrupt panel sided with the processors offering $2.60.” As the season began on April 1 with the boats tied to the dock, Efford posted on Facebook that the processors were trying to break the strike by offering $3.00 for the first three weeks of fishing, followed by a return to their initial $2.60 offer.

Efford also reported that fishermen looking to ship off the island were told by shippers that they’d be blacklisted if they carried fishermen’s product off the island. “There’s been a lot of shady dealing,” says Efford. “They want to hang on to us. If they paid a fair price, they wouldn’t have trouble hanging on to us.”

Efford had called for another protest on April 15, and the government was preparing to have a strong police presence at the Confederation Building. But the fishermen, processors, and the province negotiated all day on Sunday. They arrived at an agreement that gave fishermen the $3.00 price they wanted, the right to sell off the island, and some more nuanced concessions by the province and processors. “Is it perfect?” Efford asked on Facebook. “No, but we have competition now, so use it!”

Efford will soon be setting his traps. With three permits stacked on the Four Jacks, he will have a quota of 370,000 pounds. “She holds 47,000 pounds of boxed crab,” says Efford, who will stow his snow crab in 50-pound iced boxes. “They’re good for about five days like that,” he says. With negotiations over, for now, he and the rest of the Newfoundland crab fleet will get down to business. Their unified stand gave them the win and provided an example to other fishermen facing unheard-of low prices.

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Paul Molyneaux is the Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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