Canada's fishing sector needs some relief from the "negative impacts of the temporary foreign worker program," according to a report sent to the federal finance minister.
The federal government should use the upcoming budget to address the issue "in the immediate term," the House of Commons finance committee report said after countrywide consultations.
The committee heard presentations from organizations across the country from a variety of sectors including agriculture, food and fisheries. It recommends a full review of the temporary foreign worker program.
One of the issues raised was the barriers preventing seafood from getting to market.
Limits on the number of workers
The report doesn't specify what negative effects the temporary foreign worker program has had on the seafood industry, but limits on the number of workers companies could hire caused Atlantic Canadian industry professionals to raise concerns last spring.
As recently as January, the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association asked for those limits to be loosened ahead of this spring lobster season in order to have enough staff.
In Caribou, N.S., fish processing plant owner Paul Logan said he'd like to be able to hire workers for a longer period, perhaps three to four years at a time.
"There's not enough people in the fish community, it's so seasonal," he said.
'Good' and 'beneficial'
Logan owns North Nova Seafoods, which was told last year it could hire fewer than 50 temporary foreign workers for its fish processing plant, after normally hiring closer to 70. That limitation was later relaxed, he said.
"It's a good program and beneficial to my community," Logan said.
"It enables us to hire the local people...and helps to bring in a bigger volume of fish because we have a steady workforce."
He said he normally hires around 75 local employees each year.
Some of the temporary foreign workers hired from Thailand and Mexico have married and stayed in Pictou County permanently, he said.
"They're good in the community."
'Support and employ' locals
In southwestern Nova Scotia on Cape Sable Island, lobster buyer and seller Erica Smith said she has no trouble finding local employees for her smaller business of up to 20 full-time seasonal employees.
"Since Alberta's been having its problems with the oil industry, a lot of people are moving back to Nova Scotia," she said.
She said she might consider using the temporary foreign worker program if her company decides in the future to expand into lobster processing.
"There are people out there that do want jobs and there doesn't seem to be enough jobs to support the local economy as it is," Smith said.
"I consider that giving back to my community."
Newfoundland expert weighs in
Memorial University fisheries school director Carey Bonnell presented to the finance committee to advocate for government support to increase "innovation, competitiveness and overall market development" of the seafood industry.
"Things like support for temporary foreign workers are tools in the tool kit," Bonnell told the committee.
"Whether it's a long-term solution or a medium-term solution, you could debate...but if you don't have the labour to produce the product to sell to the global community, then we have a major issue on our hands."