The federal government will spend almost $8 million to compensate fishermen who could not get to sea this spring because ofmassivepacks of ice.

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Heavy ice made navigation from communities such as Twillingate, N.L., above, difficult for thousands of fishermen. ((David Boyd))

"Extraordinary conditions have led to extraordinary measures," federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn said in a statement Thursday.

The government has been under pressure for almost two months to help thousands of fishermen— most on Newfoundland's northeast coast, but also in Labrador and in eastern Quebec— who were unable to work because of intense ice conditions.

Hearn said the government estimates 5,100 people will be eligible to apply for aid through the $7.9 million program.

Fishermen, whose employment insurance benefits ran out during the spring, had called for an EI extension.

Hearn said that option was turned down. Instead, "our government has designated special funds to respond to this extraordinary situation," he said.

"These programs that we're introducing … are only brought in when we really have a disaster," Hearn said. "And once it was determined that there were areas that were certainly disadvantaged, then we could go and fight for compensation for the people affected."

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'Extraordinary conditions have led to extraordinary measures,' Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn says. ((CBC))

The federal government has on at least two occasions— in 1974 and in 1990— put similar packages together.

Hearn and the federal government have come under criticism from the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union and provincial politicians for a slow response to this spring's ice jam.

Ice was so heavy across hundreds of kilometres of coastline that many fishermen could not leave their harbours or, in some cases, even move from the wharves.

The FFAW made an appeal for emergency aid on May 6. Less than three weeks later, Hearn's office said that a package was being put together.

Fishermen will receive $377 for each week that they are eligible. To qualify, an applicant must have received EI fishing benefits during 2005 and 2006, and have exhausted their benefits in 2007.