Feds planning relief for ice-hampered fishermen

The federal government is preparing an emergency package for Newfoundland and Labrador fishermen who have been unable to harvest anything this season because of heavy ice.

The federal government is preparing an emergency package for Newfoundland and Labrador fishermen who have been unable to harvest anything this season because of heavy ice.

A photograph taken in Twillingate on Wednesday shows the harbour filled with heavy ice. ((David Boyd))
Pack ice along Newfoundland's northeast coast has all but stalled the crab fishery— the most important part of the province's fishery, in financial terms— with union leaders describing the federal government as "totally oblivious" to what fishermen are facing.

Federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn said some sort of relief package is in the wings.

"Where there is prolonged hardship, as it appears will be in some areas, we will have something ready," Hearn told CBC News.

"In fact, our people are working on something right now."

Fish, Food and Allied Workers union president Earle McCurdy said he has been astonished that he has heard nothing back from the federal government since making an emergency plea to Hearn on May 6.

The FFAW has been seeking an emergency extension to employment insurance benefits, which ran out weeks ago for most fishermen.

"There are several thousand families that haven't had a cheque come into their household since early April," McCurdy said in a statement.

'If we're going to make an argument for assistance, we have to have our information gathered,' Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn says. ((CBC))
The federal government has made extraordinary moves in the past— in 1974 and in 1990— when heavy ice conditions obliterated the respective fishing seasons.

Hearn said the evidence is emerging that this year's season is no mere delay.

Ice has presented serious problems for weeks off northeastern Newfoundland and southern Labrador. Scores of fishermen returning from the annual seal hunt were stranded for weeks when their longliners became trapped in heavy ice.

The crab season is limited in its duration. Legal harvesting stops in the late spring, before the shells of crab turn soft and their market value plummets.

"Because of soft-shell and whatever else, these are the things we're trying to get a handle on," Hearn said.

"If we're going to make an argument for assistance, we have to have our information gathered."

Hearn said DFO is examining to what extent fishing seasons can be extended without harming stocks.

Last year's snow crab harvest had a landed value of just over $100 million. Fishermen had been hoping for a better season because prices have rebounded strongly.