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

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

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

Ashcroft RCMP are warning businesses to be aware of a suspect passing counterfeit $50 and $100 bills in the Ashcroft and Cache Creek area. (Photo credit: Stock image)
Counterfeit money being circulated in Ashcroft/Cache Creek area

Police are warning local businesses to be on the alert for counterfeit cash

The former Ashcroft Elementary School building, which closed as a school in 2015 and is now operated as the Ashcroft HUB, pictured during Skip’s Run, June 2017. The board of education of SD74 voted on March 2 to sell the property to the society for a ‘nominal fee’. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
School district votes to sell Ashcroft HUB for ‘nominal fee’ to HUB Society

Amendment to motion seeks to keep school district’s financial interests in property secure

Cache Creek council say that budget meetings have to take place before a public meeting about the fate of the pool — first promised in May 2019 — can be held. (Photo credit: Journal files)
No date set for public meeting to discuss fate of Cache Creek pool

Council says public meeting cannot take place until budget discussions have been held

The RCMP arrest one of the suspects on Highway 97 courtesy of cell phone footage shot by a bystander. (April Thomas photo)
WATCH: Two suspects arrested after multi-jurisdictional chase

A half dozen police cars were seen heading north on Highway 97

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon speaks in the B.C. legislature, describing work underway to make a small business and tourism aid package less restrictive, Dec. 10, 2020. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends deadline for tourism, small business COVID-19 grants

Business owners expect months more of lost revenues

Anti-pipeline protests continue in Greater Vancouver, with the latest happening Thursday, March 4 at a Trans Mountain construction site in Burnaby. (Facebook/Laurel Dykstra)
A dozen faith-based protestors blockade Burnaby Trans Mountain site in prayer

The group arrived early Thursday, planning to ‘block any further work’

Mid day at the Vancouver Port Intersection blockade on March 3, organized by the Braided Warriors. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
Anti-pipeline blockade at Vancouver intersection broken up by police

Demonstraters were demanding the release of a fellow anti-TMX protester

(Government of B.C.)
Backcountry skiers are dwarfed by the mountains as they make their way along a mountain ridge near McGillivray Pass Lodge located in the southern Chilcotin Mountains of British Columbia, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012. Avalanche Canada has issued a special warning to people who use the backcountry in the mountains of western Alberta and eastern British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Avalanche Canada special warning for mountains in western Alberta, eastern B.C.

Avalanche Canada also says everyone in a backcountry party needs essential rescue gear

A recently finished $4.3-million taxiway extension at the Victoria International Airport (not pictured) is unusable because of a blind spot. (Black Press Media file photo)
Blind spot leaves Victoria airport’s new $4.3-million taxiway extension unusable

Solution has been put on hold by COVID-19 pandemic, says airport authority

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

Most Read