The P.E.I. Fishermen's Association wants changes made to the temporary foreign workers program to allow seafood processing plants to hire more workers.

Executive Director Ian MacPherson said there needs to be enough workers to process the catch from the lobster season that is only a few months away.

PEIFA is asking the federal government to loosen up the restrictions brought in by the previous government. Those restrictions limit the number of foreign workers entering the country.

MacPherson said the changes are necessary to continue the growth of one of the largest industries in P.E.I.

The association said with retiring workers and people moving from rural communities, finding workers is getting harder.

High employment when plants open

"We're seeing a lot of people retire, they're just at an age where it's tough to do that job, and I think one of the things that really gets lost on P.E.I. is we have very high employment during those months that those plants are running — agriculture is fired up, the fishery is going full tilt , tourism — and so there's not a lot of available people," said MacPherson.

"I think the key here is that the priority is giving … local Canadians jobs, so that's still the priority. But it's not a job for everyone, so you've got to look at what's the real available pool."

MacPherson says with more value-added products in the lobster fishery, and more exports, there's a need for more workers. He adds without additional workers, P.E.I. might not be able to to supply new markets.

Ian MacPherson

PEIFA Executive Director Ian MacPherson (CBC)

"We've worked hard to get our resource and build our resource and now we want to be able to maximize those opportunities out in the export markets."

Short-term solution needed

"It gets back to being able to process all the product that's coming in ... We've got a short term strategy, let us adopt it and we'll work towards a bigger longer-term solution," said MacPherson.

Dennis King of the P.E.I. Seafood Processors says they agree with PEIFA that changes are necessary to allow more Temporary Foreign Workers to be hired.

King says while they aggressively recruit for local workers there is still a shortage.  

Egmont MP Bobby Morrissey agrees the rules need to change so that there are more workers for fish plants.

"If these lobster processing plants cannot recruit an acceptable workforce, then they're putting in jeopardy hundreds of jobs that are filled by Islanders and Maritimers."

Morrissey added there are many reasons why not everyone can work in a lobster processing plant.

"The [federal] minister is aware of the situation and currently is looking at ways to find a path forward on addressing this issue, so I'm continuing to provide her office with information and seeing if we can come up with a practical resolution to what I feel is a very critical issue."