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National fish harvester group calling on Ottawa for aid during COVID-19

The Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters Federation says the federal government needs to do more to help people who work on the water sooner rather than later, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federation represents fishing groups from across the country, including the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association.

“The time for some assistance that we heard the minister speak about is now,” said Melanie Sonnenberg, president of the federation.

Earlier this week, federal Minister of Fisheries Bernadette Jordan announced Ottawa’s plan to help processors during the pandemic and said the federal government is working on help for fishermen.

Sonnenberg said fishing across the country is “very seasonal.”

“As we see the spring fishery start to open, folks need to have a more robust knowledge of what is going to happen to them and we don’t have it,” she said.

‘Our time is now’

Sonnenberg said a lot of harvesters are falling “through the cracks” when it comes to some of the programs already announced by the federal government.

“We have tried to be patient, we understand there is a lot going on, but our time is now,” she said.

We have fleets fishing. They are adapting each day but it is complicated.— Melanie Sonnenberg, Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters Federation

“Folks need to have some kind of clear direction about how we can plug into programs or design some programs that are special for the industry.”

Sonnenberg said fishermen are anxious because they are unsure how market conditions are going to be and what it will look like moving into the season. She said she knows based on places where the season has started, that the market is not as good as last year.

“We’re going to have impacts,” she said. “Knowing some of the details about how programs can work for the industry will make a difference for the enterprise owners in terms of how they do their business.”

The federation is asking for employment insurance benefits to be extended for 12 months. It also wants the federal government to adapt the Canada emergency response benefit and the Canadian emergency wage subsidy programs to meet the needs of the fishing sector.

It isn’t easy to create blanket COVID-19 safety guidelines for fishing vessels because boats range in design and the operations conducted on board. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

The federation is also asking that 2020 federal fees related to the commercial fishery be waived, and for the introduction of a program similar to the Canada emergency business account, a federal emergency loan program for small businesses, for fish harvesters.

Sonnenberg said the federation doesn’t expect government to do everything at once, but hopes some help could be announced soon with more to come later.

“We have fleets fishing. They are adapting each day, but it is complicated,” she said.

Safety guidelines

It is also difficult to create safety guidelines around COVID-19 because boats range in design and what they are used for, Sonnenberg said.

“They may look alike but they have different equipment on the deck,” she said.

“So folks are trying to maintain physical distancing where possible, but sometimes it is simply not possible.”

She said she is also hearing from fish harvesters that they have stepped up sanitation efforts.

“They are trying to be more vigilant in terms of how they clean.”

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.
  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government’s website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.


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