Fishing boats head from port in West Dover, N.S. on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019 as the lobster season on Nova Scotia’s South Shore begins after a one-day weather delay. Ottawa is announcing $469 million in federal support for fish harvesters who have been ineligible for other initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Ottawa announces $469M for fish harvesters with sector-specific grant, benefit

The Fish Harvester Benefit offers income support covering 75 per cent of losses for eligible harvesters

Canadian fish harvesters welcomed the announcement Thursday of $469 million in federal support for the sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying they’re watching closely for clarity as fishing seasons open across the country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the programs in Ottawa, acknowledging the financial pinch and safety concerns harvesters are facing.

“You can’t harvest lobster from inside your house, so that leaves you trying to figure out how to either space people out on a fishing boat or cancel your operations. It’s not an easy call to make,” Trudeau said.

He also pointed to decreasing prices and reduced demand for products that have put pressure on harvesters and their families.

“This adds up to a really tough time, so I want you to know that we’re listening,” the prime minister said.

The new aid comes in the form of an industry-specific benefit and a grant.

The Fish Harvester Benefit, structured similarly to the previously announced federal wage subsidy, offers income support covering 75 per cent of losses for harvesters who see their income drop by at least 25 per cent this year.

The program will provide a maximum individual amount of $847 per week for up to 12 weeks — the same as the existing wage subsidy program.

The Fish Harvester Grant is a sector-specific grant similar to the Canada Emergency Business Account, offering up to $10,000 of non-repayable support to self-employed harvesters.

Trudeau also addressed concerns among harvesters who may not generate enough income to file a valid employment insurance claim for next year.

He said proposed measures would allow self-employed harvesters to access benefits based on insurable earnings from previous years.

A statement from federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan said the fishing sectors, which drive the economies in many coastal and rural communities, face unique challenges.

“With this announcement, we are ensuring that Canada’s hard-working fish harvesters get the support they need now and into the future,” Jordan said.

The relief measures come amid mounting concerns about support from Ottawa as fish harvesters prepared to head out on the water this spring.

Crab harvester Jason Sullivan said the announcement addressed his biggest concern about employment insurance for his crew, though he was waiting on the fine print on issues like whether the funding will be dispersed to individuals or enterprises.

“Right now, it seems to be pretty good,” Sullivan said from Bay Bulls, N.L. “It’s something the industry needed. It needed help.”

Volatility with prices and demand were already challenging the industry, Sullivan said, and the pandemic has highlighted the fragility in the sector.

“Hopefully people realize that changes need to be made and the fishery needs to be modernized so you can weather a storm on your own,” he said.

Tony Doyle of Bay de Verde, N.L., who fishes lobster, crab and other fish in Conception Bay, said the measures seem likely help a lot of people during a difficult year, though he’s hoping to see the finer details about applying to the programs as soon as possible.

He said distancing on boats will be a challenge, and some older fishermen in the community may choose to stay home this year. But fears about COVID-19 infecting coastal communities have subsided as cases flattened in the province over the last month.

“We’ll do our best,” he said. “It’s a later start than usual, but we’re hopeful that we can land the product we need to land and if I need help, I’ll be able to avail of the help the federal government is providing.”

Conservative fisheries critic Mel Arnold said harvesters were let down by the Liberal government’s delayed announcement and lack of clarity about when people can apply and who qualifies.

He also raised concerns about labour shortages and market uncertainty.

“As fish harvesters in Atlantic Canada head out (Friday), what is the Trudeau government doing to secure new and traditional export markets and to make fish and seafood more available to Canadian consumers,” Arnold said in a statement.

NDP critic Gord Johns agreed that the announcement was overdue, adding that the loan program should be raised to meet fishers’ needs.

He also urged the government to help bring Canadian seafood to local markets by clarifying how seafood will be included in the Canada Purchase Program, especially given tightened restrictions on seafood entering the United States.

“A government focus on selling domestic seafood to Canadians would not only support, but also validate, the hard work of Canadian fishers and harvesters,” Johns said in a statement.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusFisheries and Oceans Canada

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Colwood family desperately searching for lost dog

Hachi was last seen on Monday near Lookout Lake Park

Cannabis responsible for higher incomes among Canadian farmers

Without cannabis sales, national crop revenues would have dropped in 2019

Victoria to book more hotel rooms for people sheltering in parks

The City will use ‘unspent’ COVID-19 response funds to book the rooms

VicPD investigating three suspicious dumpster fires

Police ask people to secure waste bins and report suspicious activity

Camosun College shares free design of medical-grade face masks

Manufacturers across Canada, United States and UK have inquired

Feds looking at ways to reunite families amid COVID-19 border restrictions with U.S.

Some families with members of dual-citizenship have become separated due to the pandemic

POLL: Do you agree with the provincial government’s decision to increase the minimum wage?

B.C.’s lowest-paid workers will be getting a few more dollars to try… Continue reading

VIDEO: Humpback whales put on quite a show

The ‘playful’ pod lingered by a Campbell River tour operator’s boat for quite some time

B.C. woman launches First Nations search, rescue and patrol program

Linda Peters envisions trained searchers ready to go at moment’s notice in each B.C. First Nation

Large cruise ships barred from Canadian waters until end of October: Garneau

Last year 140 cruise ships brought more than two million visitors to Canadian ports

Getting hitched at historic B.C. gold rush town still on table during COVID-19 pandemic

Micro-weddings, online visits, offered at Barkerville Historic Town and Park

Stolen gargoyle returns to its perch on central Vancouver Island yard

Petey, a concrete gargoyle statue, was returned by Nanaimo RCMP after being found by city crew

Revelstoke woman finds welcoming letter on her Alberta-registered truck

There have been multiple reports online of vandalism to vehicles with Alberta licence plates

Spirit bear possibly spotted in West Kootenay

A local resident spotted the white-coloured bear while on an evening trail run near Castlegar on May 27

Most Read