Rising US demand provides big assist to troubled Canadian snow crab sector

Newfoundland snow crab.

Significant U.S. demand has rescued the Canadian snow crab sector from a potentially disastrous situation.

The United States has imported 44,027 metric tons (MT) of snow crab from Canada year to date through July 2023, up from 39,090 MT in all of 2022, 40,137 MT in 2021, and 36,063 MT in 2020, according to NOAA data. The all-time annual record for U.S. imports of Canadian snow crab is 46,295 MT, set in 2009.

Canada’s leading province for snow crab production is Newfoundland and Labrador, which had a 54,727 MT quota in 2023. In the southern Gulf of Saint Lawrence, the snow crab quota is 35,106 MT, and there is a 7,345 MT quota in Nova Scotia this year.

The season was initially complicated by a  a six-week standoff over pricing in Newfoundland that led harvesters to stay tied at the dock until 19 May. Subsequently, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) issued several season extensions for critical fishing zones in Newfoundland, allowing fishermen there to catch 95 percent of the quota, or 51,632 MT, by the season’s end on 31 August. And fishermen in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and in Nova Scotia caught their entire quotas this season.

With tepid demand going into the season due to inflation and 10 million pounds of Canadian snow crab remaining stockpiled from the 2022 catch, there was deep concern from both processors and fishermen that their earnings would not outpace expenses this year. But demand – and prices – rebounded somewhat as the season progressed, and the stockpiles had been sold through by June 2023, according to Tradex. Along with strong U.S. sales, demand from China and Japan was also better than expected, with sales to China up 133 year over year.

By value, 2023 U.S. imports of Canadian snow crab were at ... 

Photo courtesy of the Government of Canada

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