OTTAWA: The federal government said the decision to delay the opening of some local fishing seasons was based on many factors.
On May 11 at the Canso Causeway, 75 people protested the decision to delay the beginning of the lobster fishing season in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The Gulf Nova Scotia Bonafide Fishermens’ Association said the delay is unwanted and harmful because – in the absence of an aid package from the government – fishermen want to start the season.
The season in Lobster Fishing Areas (LFAs) 26A and 26B – impacting fishermen in Inverness and Antigonish counties – was delayed to May 15. The season for LFAs 28, 29, 30, 31A, and 31B – off Richmond and Guysborough counties – started on May 1.
Jane Deeks, press secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans told The Reporter they recognize those concerns and fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan will continue to work closely with industry partners to address the issues.
By delaying the opening to the middle of this month, Deeks explained Fisheries and Oceans Canada is maintaining a shared opening.
“This is how the season typically opens, and it was something many partners requested as it helps ensure continued cooperation across the industry,” she said.
The other factor is that not all plants were going to be ready by mid-May since some Temporary Foreign Workers were forced to self-isolate for 14 days upon arriving in Canada.
“The additional time will also enable processing plants to prepare their facilities and workforce for the upcoming season, and allow everyone across the industry to put in place the necessary health and safety measures in response to COVID-19,” Deeks noted.
Deeks said a decision has not yet been made to extend the season in compensation for the late start because the DFO is concentrating on getting the season going.
On May 14, Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau announced up to $469.4 million in new measures to support Canada’s fish harvesters, who are economically impacted by the pandemic but cannot access existing federal measures.
The aim of the Launch the Fish Harvester Benefit, a program worth up to $267.6 million, is to provide income support for this year’s fishing seasons to eligible self-employed fish harvesters and crew who cannot access the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. Support will be provided to those who experience fishing income declines of greater than 25 per cent in the 2020 tax year, compared with a reference period to be identified. This measure covers 75 per cent of fishing income losses beyond a 25 per cent income decline threshold, up to a maximum individual entitlement equivalent to what is provided under the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy ($847 per week for up to 12 weeks).
The Launch the Fish Harvest Grant is a $201.8 million program designed to provide grants to help fish harvesters impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and who are ineligible for the Canada Emergency Business Account or equivalent measures, to give them more liquidity to address non-deferrable business costs. The program would provide non-repayable support of up to $10,000 to self-employed fish harvesters with a valid fishing licence. Size of the non-repayable support will vary depending on the level of fish harvesters’ historic revenue.
Changes to Employment Insurance (EI) would allow self-employed fish harvesters and crew to access EI benefits on the basis of insurable earnings from previous seasons (winter and summer claims).
Cape Breton-Canso MP said his office has been calling and e-mailing with the many fishing associations across Cape Breton and northeastern Nova Scotia. He said it is because of this feedback that these measures were introduced.
“We’ve heard from harvesters, processors, family members and other stakeholders who expressed concerns about how they were going to get through this season,” the MP said in a Facebook post. “These measures are designed specifically for Canada’s hard-working independent fish harvesters, to ensure they get the support they need now while positioning the sector for a strong recovery in the future.”
Mel Arnold, Conservative Shadow Minister for Fisheries and Oceans said the announcements leaves more unanswered questions.
“Today’s announcement once again fails to provide the clarity that fish and seafood harvesters need,” Arnold said. “When will fish harvesters be able to apply for these benefits? Will family-run businesses qualify? Does the offshore sector qualify?”
Calling the fish and seafood sectors essential contributors to national food security and key economic drivers in coastal communities, Arnold said the government still is not addressing major problems like market uncertainty and labour shortages.
“As fish harvesters in Atlantic Canada head out tomorrow, what is the Trudeau government doing to secure new and traditional export markets and to make fish and seafood more available to Canadian consumers?
“Labour shortages are also a significant challenge, which is why Conservatives have proposed the creation of a new program to match students and youth employees with jobs in the agriculture and agri-food sector, including fish and seafood.”