STRAIT AREA: Although some do not agree, federal and provincial officials have deemed the fishery an essential service and they want it to continue.
Lobster fishermen around the Strait area are debating whether to return to the water, but Federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan told The Reporter it is up to fishermen in each area to make the final decision when and whether to return to the water. Even if a group decides not to return, harvesters are permitted to fish when the season opens, and in areas where the organizations vote to fish, individual fishermen have the right to stay home.
As a result of consultations, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has delayed the opening of the 2020 Atlantic snow crab season until later in the month.
Because Canadians rely on that food supply and it’s a vital part of the food chain, Jordan feels it’s important to allow fishermen to fish.
“The additional time enables everyone involved in the fishery to put the necessary health and safety measures in place, so when the fishery does open, workers are protected,” the minister said. “I will continue to work with local parliamentarians, provincial counterparts, and industry partners to ensure the women and men in Canada’s fisheries are safe and supported through this through this unprecedented time. Together we are ensuring that the decisions we make today support the industry in the short-term, and will allow for a strong recovery in the future.”
Cape Breton-Canso MP Mike Kelloway said he’s been speaking with constituents and local leaders on a daily basis about fishery issues. Among fishermen and their groups, he said opinions are divided.
“Right now, the federal government deems it an essential service and an essential product,” Kelloway said. “On the gulf side, on the west side of the island, we’re getting strong indications that the fishers on that side of the island would like to see the government explore the role in terms of no fishery but some type of measures put in place.”
While backing the concerns of fishermen who don’t want to return, Kelloway said he is equally supportive of those who want to resume fishing.
Meanwhile, all processors in Nova Scotia have agreed to delay the season until at least April 20 while procedures and protocols are implemented, and workers are trained.
Provincial spokesperson Marla MacInnis told The Reporter that fish plant workers are exempt from the five-person rule but all other social distancing and public health protocols must be adhered to in all other day-to-day activities, unless it would impact safety.
The provincial Health Protection Act has now been amended to include workers in the fishing and offshore industries.
“Any offshore worker, or fisher entering our province must self-isolate for 14 days,” Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said. “Fishers can self-isolate on their vessel provided they’re able to do so for 14 consecutive days.
“Temporary Foreign Workers will be allowed into the province but they too must self-isolate for 14 days when they arrive.”
On March 20, the province announced that it is deferring payments and interest for government lending programs until June 30. This includes loans under the Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board.
Total fish and seafood exports from Nova Scotia were $2.3 billion in 2019, a 13.6 per cent increase over 2018 export earnings. Lobster was Nova Scotia’s most valuable export species in 2019, valued at almost $1.2 billion.